Kicker’s patience finally pays off

avid Kalan

When Josh Huston was a freshman at Ohio State, 26 of his current teammates were still in middle school.

Now, in his sixth year in Columbus, Ohio, Huston is finally the starting kicker. During his college career, the soccer convert has had to constantly battle injuries, most notably when he missed the 2002 season with torn cartilage in his hip and knee.

“I was worried about being able to walk around without pain, let alone kick without pain,” Huston said. “I didn’t know if I was going to be able to kick anymore and luckily these doctors did an amazing job on me.”

Huston and Mike Nugent had shared the kicking duties in 2001, but with Huston battling injuries Nugent became the starter.

By the time Huston recovered, Nugent had established himself and was well on his way to becoming Ohio State’s all-time leading scorer. But with Nugent now splitting the uprights for the New York Jets, Huston has gotten his chance.

“There were two and a half years there where I thought he’d live in the training room,” coach Jim Tressel said. “He fought through it. He believed in himself. He wants to be the kicker at Ohio State and it meant waiting til his sixth year to be healthy.

“He’s having a tremendous year.”

So far Huston has made 16 of his 19 field goal attempts, scoring 81 points in the process.

Tressel is not the only one to notice his production.

“I’ve been able to watch a few games,” Nugent said. “He’s been doing a great job, hitting the ball unbelievably on kickoffs and field goals as well – Hopefully he can keep it going for the rest of the season.”

The path seems unlikely for someone who never had interest in being a kicker when he was in high school. As a 16-year-old, Huston had been dedicated to playing soccer – he drove two hours from his hometown of Findlay, Ohio, to a traveling team in Cleveland several times a week.

As a junior Huston was approached by Cliff Hite, a family friend who happened to be the football coach at his high school, to kick for the football team. Huston was reluctant at first, assuming that soccer would be his ticket to a college scholarship, but after Hite told him he could simply kick footballs for five minutes after soccer practice, Huston signed on.

“I was a soccer player that just had something to do on Friday nights,” Huston said. “I didn’t really take it seriously. I wasn’t into that at all the whole football team deal. I’d lay down on the sidelines and wear hats and gloves, warm ups to keep me warm.

“One day I opened up the paper, it was to actually see if I made the paper for soccer, and I looked at it and it said I was First- Team All-State and I was pretty surprised.”

Soon scholarship offers started to roll in. He first heard from Notre Dame, and when he received a letter from the Buckeyes, he decided that kicking in front 100,000 people every week was a better option than playing soccer in front of 1,000.

In his senior year of high school, Huston had fewer opportunities to kick field goals. His teammate, a young quarterback named Ben Roethlisberger, was busy setting a state record for touchdown passes.

“It was like playing with anybody else,” Huston said. “Ben wasn’t what he is today.

“He was an average holder.”

Big Ben didn’t stop Huston from showing off his talents. That season he kicked 67 of his 79 kickoffs through the endzone.

He sometimes secretly hoped the offense would stall so he could kick a field goal. But now Huston is just happy to kick at any opportunity, keeping in mind that scoring touchdowns is the team’s ultimate goal.

“That was kind of frustrating,” Huston said. “But kicking off, I want to kick off as much as possible. I loved kicking off eight times against Minnesota (two weeks ago). That was the best.”

Whether it was watching Roethlisberger score too many touchdowns, spending years rehabilitating his knee, or watching Nugent become a first-round draft pick while Huston was icing his hip and mulling transfer offers, the Buckeyes’ elder statesman has paid his dues.

After five years of waiting, he is now kicking field goals at the Horseshoe for the Scarlet and Gray. And if he waits one more year, he might be kicking on Sundays.

“That’s what you try to teach in sports, persistence and diligence and handling adversity,” Tressel said. “He’s probably going to play in the NFL, all because he did all those good things like handle the tough times that came his way.”