Hauschka Earns Starting Job For Baltimore Ravens

September 14, 2009

On a warm, sunny early autumn afternoon, Baltimore Ravens kicker Steven Hauschka trotted onto the turf at M & T Bank Stadium and glanced up at the scoreboard.

Just under 11 minutes remained in the first quarter of the Ravens' season-opener against the Kansas City Chiefs, and Hauschka took in the sight of Chiefs: 0, Ravens: 0. The 24-year-old's boyish face registered no emotion; if he was nervous, excited, or scared out of his purple and black Ravens jersey, you couldn't tell by looking at his face.

The football rested at the Chiefs 26 yard line. The holder, Ravens' punter Sam Koch, knelt just shy of the 34. And Hauschka-the first starting kicker in Baltimore's history not named Matt Stover-stood three yards behind and a yard or so to the left of Koch.

The snap was good, the hold was perfect, and Hauschka drilled a 44-yard field goal through the yellow uprights to give the Ravens a 3-0 lead in its first game of the 2009 regular season. A capacity crowd of 75,000+ roared its approval. (And for a moment, a rabid fan base was left asking "Matt Who?")

Four years ago, Hauschka performed such feats on a regular basis at Youngman Field-albeit in front of far fewer people-as the best kicker ever to wear the Panther blue and white. A standout soccer player from Needham, Massachusetts, Steve Hauschka thought he'd give football a try prior to the start of his sophomore year. That he had never pulled on pads before and would have to beat out five other candidates didn't seem to faze him.

He kicked for three seasons, setting College records for field goals in a season (10) and in a career (20). After he graduated in 2007 with a degree in neuroscience, Hauschka was thinking about going to dental school, but he couldn't get the gridiron out of his mind. With one season of collegiate eligibility remaining, the Needham native cold-called coaches at Boston College to inquire about the possibility of walking on to the Eagles as a graduate student. Hauschka got a positive response-but he'd have to head south to Raleigh, North Carolina to put his powerful leg to the test. (BC head coach Tom O'Brien had been offered the job at North Carolina State.)

So Hauschka left the NESCAC for the ACC, promptly beat out two other kickers for the job (notice a pattern here?), and had a great season for the Wolfpack-a perfect 25 for 25 on extra points and 16 for 18 on field goals, which included a game-winning boot against Miami in the Orange Bowl.

Still, plenty of big-time collegiate kickers never sniff the NFL. Yet Hauschka's ability to boom kick-offs and long field goals caught the eye of first the Minnesota Vikings and then the Ravens. Last year, the Vikings signed Hauschka to a free agent contract, and though they subsequently released him, he had impressed the Ravens coaching staff. Baltimore signed him as a kick-off specialist (an aging Stover could no longer produce consistent touchbacks), and Hauschka remained on the roster through the AFC championship game.

This past off-season, the Ravens waived Stover, and Hauschka engaged in a competitive pre-season battle with Graham Gano, who, oh, received the Lou Groza award last year at Florida State as the best kicker in college football.

No matter. Hauschka won the job (besting both Gano and the ghost of Stover), which put him on the field for the opportunity to put the Ravens on the scoreboard for the first time in the 2009 season. He'd miss his only other opportunity of the day-this one from 41 yards-but heck, no one expected him to be perfect. "He's going to miss a couple of kicks," Ravens head coach John Harbaugh told the Baltimore Sun earlier in the week. "The thing we're going to be looking for is, how does he handle missing a kick?"

Well, that day Hauschka had a positive answer for his head coach, going a perfect five for five in extra points in a Ravens win.

It looks like dental school will have to wait a little bit longer for the Panther-turned-Raven.