Rugby kicker finds home at Ohio State


USA Today, Jan 7, 2008



NEW ORLEANS -- Some of his buddies back in South Africa know what Ryan Pretorius is doing now, are aware the onetime rugby and soccer player from Durban has moved to America and taken up a different kind of football.


Pretorius scans the inside expanse of the Louisiana Superdome, and his eyes widen.


But they can't fathom this.


"They'd just be floored. I mean, I'd be floored if I knew one of my friends was doing this," Ohio State's placekicker says from a seat off the field where he and the Buckeyes will play LSU for college football's national championship tonight. "This stadium is ridiculous. It's out of this world, this opportunity.


"I'm going to try to Facebook and e-mail them and tell them there's this game -- probably Tuesday morning at like 2 a.m. their time -- and they should turn on their televisions and see a bit of football. And they might recognize someone they know."


He spent more than five improbable years getting here.


Pretorius, at 28 the oldest player on either roster tonight, wandered from South Africa to England to France to Spain as a rugby player. What little he knew about football was what he saw in movies such as Rudy and Jerry Maguire and from browsing the Internet.


His rugby career wasn't taking off. He liked the notion of "a sport where you could just kick" and was advised by fellow South African, family friend and former NFL kicker Gary Anderson to try to get into college football. Pretorius moved to Denver. He spent two years practicing in the Denver Public Schools' All-City Stadium -- getting used to the different-shaped ball and to kicking while wearing a helmet and shoulder pads. He made a video and shopped himself to some 20 major, mostly disinterested schools.


He moved to Columbus, Ohio, where Pretorius had more family friends, and finally got Ohio State to bite. He was an invited walk-on in 2004, taking out a $13,500 bank loan to pay for his first year of school. Coaches liked enough of what they saw to tender him a scholarship for the next season.


"He has a unique style ... real soccer style, sometimes from a pretty hard angle," says Chad Rogosheske, an OSU graduate assistant coach who works with kickers, punters and long-snappers. "It's a roundhouse leg motion rather than a down-and-through motion. But it works well for him. He's very comfortable doing it that way."

Pretorius sat out a redshirt season, kicked off in a couple of games in 2005 and got a shot at being the starter a year ago. He lost out to Aaron Pettrey, then won the job away from Pettrey before this season.


He hit 17 of 21 field goal attempts and all but one of 46 point-after tries during the regular season. "The reason he won the job was his accuracy," Rogosheske says. "Coach (Jim) Tressel is probably more likely to punt if it's going to be a 50-yard field goal unless we need it to win the game. So we need a guy who's going to be accurate closer in, and that's what he's able to do."


Still, one of Pretorius' two field goals in 2006 came from 52 yards, and he had a 50-yarder at the start of Ohio State's 37-17 victory at Penn State on Oct. 27.

No less memorable is the first time he suited up -- for a game three years ago against Marshall. "I didn't even know how to put my pads on. I didn't have a clue," Pretorius says, smiling. "I was in the locker room ... and (former OSU fullback) Stan White was like, 'You need some help there, buddy?' I didn't know where the thigh boards went, the knee pads, all these side things. "He showed me, I put them on and we ran out."


Now here he is. On American college football's biggest stage.


Pretorius has come to consider himself a better football than a rugby player and -- as a rugby guy -- says he takes pride in tweaking the stereotype of the soft, not-made-for-contact kicker.


His coach grins. "We do tackling drills just in case they'd have to make one on a kickoff or if there's a block being run back," Rogosheske says, "I see him as more of a typical kicker. I don't think the defensive guys are looking at him and wishing he could play over there. I think he might have been more of a finesse rugby player."



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