It was Sept. 18, a half hour or so after the Wol-
verines' close victory over FCS opponent Massa-
chusetts, and Michigan coach Rich Rodriguez was
He was frustrated with the game and the close
score, his defense and a host of other things. But
the problem with his special teams, it was unique.
So Rodriguez made an announcement at the
podium - one that many people, on campus and in
the building, heard loud and clear.
"Any student out there who's enrolled at the
University and is in good academic standing and
a good guy and can kick field goals and can kick
the ball into the end zone, we'll have another try-
out for you," Rodriguez declared. But his message
brought more questions than answers.
For Seth Broekhuizen and Brendan Gibbons,
both redshirt freshman kickers, it seemed to be a
After Gibbons began the season as the starter,
he quickly fell out of favor with the coaching staff.
He had made only one of four field goal attempts
and even had an extra point blocked. Things just
weren'tgoing his way.
Broekhuizen came in against Notre Dame for
the first time to kick the final extra point. Follow-
- ing that point after, Broekhuizen took the starting
duties, but he missed his only field goal try.
For two games now, the Wolverines haven't
attempted a field goal. And Rodriguez seems to
like it that way.
"It's nice for me," Rodriguez said last Monday.
"I'd rather score touchdowns. Fortunately for me,
we've been pretty good in the red zone as far as
efficiency, getting touchdowns instead of field
goals, and we need to do that"
But the day will come, Rodriguez knows, where
the team will need the kicker to deliver a victory
on the end of his foot.
Rodriguez spoke with the media just before the
Bowling Green game, and he began with a grin. A
student had stopped him in the parking lot of the
Junge Family Champions Center. He told Rodri-
guez that he had read what the coach said in the
paper that week and asked if he could try out for
Maybe that kid never made it to the practice
field. But it made one thing clear, the kicker posi-
tion, one of the most dramatic and agonizing in all
of sports, which for Michigan hadbeen held by the
likes of Jay Feely and Hayden Epstein, was wide
Troy Clack always thought of himself as more of
a wide receiver.
But there was no mistaking that the senior at
Swan Valley High School in Saginaw, Michigan
was a kicker and a punter - and a pretty good one
In the 2006 regional finals, a night that Clack
describes as "mucky and muddy", Clack lined up
for a 43-yard field goal with the game basically
on the line. With Swan Valley trailing by just one
point, a comeback would seem plausible, but the
weather had kept the Vikings out of the end zone
for much of the day. This was it.
He lined up and put it straight through the
uprights to secure the win. Later that season, he
was named second team All-State at the kicker
position and offered a full ride to local college Sag-
inaw Valley State.
He turned it down. Instead, he opted to go to
Michigan, his mother's alma mater.
"I had kind of abandoned the prospects of play-
ing football," Clack says. "I came here to be part
of the college experience, do straight academics.
Michigan was always the school I wanted to go to."
It was hard to ignore Rodriguez's first
announcement in 2008, though. Rodriguez, hav-
ing been a walk-on himself at West Virginia, rel-
ishes the walk-on program. At Michigan it turned
out players like Jordan Kovacs, who has started
for the last two years and Kevin Leach, who gets
significant playing time at linebacker. Now, there
would be a campus-wide tryout in Rodriguez's
first spring with the team.
So Clack decided he would do it. It would at
least be a good story to tell, he figured.
Among the masses who turned out for the try-
out, Clack says 18 came to try out for the Wolver-
ines' open kicker spot. The practice began, and
after kicking a few balls to get warmed up along
with the other kickers, Clack unloaded and nearly
made a 55-yard field goal. But it hit the crossbar.
Rodriguez noticed the extraordinarly long kick
and approached the young kicker. "Almost had it,
son," he told Clack, who
still glows when he tells
He didn't make the Any stude
team that year though,
and the next year he was at the U
forced to miss tryouts
because of a previously academic
planned ski trip with
a few of his friends. In guy and
the spring of 2010, how-
ever, the junior made canekick t
a call to Brad Labadie,
who at that time was we'll have
the director of football
operations. Labadie had
known Clack's high school coach and got him a
tryout: that Thursday at 5:30.
Clack showed up for practice early that day.
He parted through the chaotic gathering of mon-
strous athletes, where he says he "stuck out like
a sore thumb," and he began the tryout, with just
him and another guy.
He kicked four balls in kickoff format to show
Rodriguez that he had potential, with the first
three landing around the 10- or five-yard-line. But
he really wanted to bury one in the back of the end
zone, so he asked the coach for permission to get
one more chance.
His next kick went just how he had planned.
After the boot, Rodriguez walked over to him.
"He said, 'We're going to keep you around for
two weeks, kind of test you out, like a trial period.'
"Obviously, I was on cloud nine. I was in the
With football practice consuming his life, Clack
dropped one of his engineering classes and tried to
work around his mandatory three-hour labs.
But he speaks fondly of his first days with the
nt out there who's enrolled
niversity and is in good
standing and a good
can kick field goals and
he ball into the end Zone,
another tryout for you.,
team - getting his helmet fitted, being handed
his jersey and seeing his name on a locker next to
freshman running back Stephen Hopkins.
"You're like the new guy at school," Clack says
when asked about those first days. "It's definitely
an interesting transition from being a normal kid,
going along on campus, to being a varsity athlete.
You meet all these guys who you read about and
see on ESPN. All of a sudden, those guys, the Tates
and the Denards, you're eating next to them."
He was surprised about one thing he noticed
in that first week though. The team, Clack says,
doesn't have a coach who knows the nuts and bolts
of kicking techniques, or one who knows what to
look for when his players kick in practice.
So the specialists, at times, end up coaching
themselves, he says.
"When you have kickers that are doing their
own thing at practice, it's great because we can
self-coach and coach each other," Clack says. "But
that can onlytake you so far. I didn't havea kicking
coach in high school either, but you come to a big
school, you think you're goingto have some sort of
coach that knows how to kick and will give you a
Even Zoltan Mesko, a former Michigan punter
and now in his rookie year with the New England
Patriots, taught him a thing or too about the sci-
ence of punting and kicking. Clack says he never
saw the same from special teams and secondary
coach Tony Gibson.
Rodriguez says that lack of a kicking coach with
specific expertise on staff is not that uncommon
though, "at any level of football."
"Coach Gibson and I certainly aren't going to
be the experts as far as kicking expertise is con-
cerned," Rodriguez said in his teleconference
Wednesday. "A lot of our (coaches) have experi-
ence. When you coach some years at the college
level, all of us have dealt with the guys in some
respects. But just to be a pure 'kicking coach,' I
Clack felt like he was on his way to impressing
his coaches, until a quad problem began to nag in
practice, an injury he thinks he sustained in the
first tryout. The injury limited him at times, giv-
ing the other kickers more opportunities to show
"They saw that I had potential," Clack says.
"But I wasn't able to bring it on a consistent basis
because of this plaguing quad injury. I'd kick a few,
and I'd just have to stop. It felt like someone was
taking a knife and stabbing it in the middle of my
But he was able to play through the injury and
remained neck-and-neck with fellow walk-ons
Jake Matelic and Curtis Beachum. All three were
invited to the spring game.
"Finding out I was going to dress for the spring
game, that was the culmination of this whole pro-
cess," he says.
The Wolverines still had no clear No. 1 kicker.
Gibbons, Michigan's scholarship kicker, seemed
to have a slight edge. Broekhuizen was a relative
unknown at the time, and Justin Meram, a for-
ward on the men's soccer team even held the start-
ing job at one point, according to Clack.
The door was wide open, and Clack was ready to
walk straight through it.
He knew he probably wouldn't kick during the
game, but he still held out hoping that out of some
off-chance his journey could come full circle. He
talks about how cool it felt to sign autographs for
kids, even if they didn't know his name, and about
the photos he wishes his mom would have taken of
his banner jump. "I got high up," he jokes.
But Clack never got into the game.
Afterward, he knew that the team's spring
meetings were coming. It was then, in Gibson's
office, when he and the rest of the kickers would
find out if they indeed were going to be MichigaY?
Clack didn't have a good feeling about this.
After he missed a practice during the week lead-
ing up to the spring game for a mandatory exam,
Matelic had taken a slight lead among the walk-on
kickers, but Clack took it in stride.
"That Thursday (before the spring game) was.
my opportunity to beat him out. I knew they were
going to give it to Jake (Matelic). But I loved that
See KICKER, Page 6B
41 j FootballSaturday, October 9, 2010
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