COLUMBIA — Andrew Baggett’s first field goal attempt hit his center in the back of the head.
More than four years later, he’s come a long way.
Baggett, Missouri’s starting placekicker, has made his past seven field goals after starting the season slowly. As a redshirt freshman, he beat senior Trey Barrow for the job this fall, a mild surprise given his inexperience.
Now, the Lee’s Summit native is beginning to become comfortable in pressure situations, kicking field goals in front of more than 70,000 people inside Memorial Stadium. He’s 10 for 14 on field goals this season and 21 for 23 on extra points.
A couple years ago, though, he felt more comfortable kicking something else.
Baggett was a soccer player up until his junior year at Lee’s Summit, when he joined the football team as a kicker. In his first summer practice before his junior season, he had no idea how to kick a football.
All he could do was approach the ball, swing hard and hope for the best.
“It had just rained, and I was like, ‘I don’t know, just kick it really hard so it goes really far and everybody sees how good it is.’ I went up there and slipped and kicked the center in the head with the ball,” Baggett said, smiling as he recalled his humble beginnings.
“I was like, ‘Well, I kicked it really hard, but it didn’t go very far.’”
That first kick didn’t exactly instill confidence in Baggett’s coaches – or his center, for that matter. He didn’t play at all his junior season, practicing with the team but never making an actual appearance on game day.
Slowly, though, he began to improve. Not that he had the most professional instruction.
“I had never had a coach,” he said. “I was told by another 18-year-old kid what to do.”
But what Baggett lacked in experience, he more than made up for in leg strength. During his senior season in 2010, he kicked off 42 times, with 39 balls soaring into or beyond the end zone for touchbacks. Multiple kicks sailed through the opposing team’s uprights, forcing returners to watch it land helplessly out of reach.
It was that strong right leg that eventually caught the attention of Missouri receivers coach Andy Hill, who visited Baggett at school and invited him to walk on to the team.
At Missouri, kickers very rarely receive scholarships initially. They must come in and earn their spot before reaping the rewards.
That’s what Jeff Wolfert did, that’s what Grant Ressel did, and two years later, that’s what Baggett is doing now.
According to Missouri coach Gary Pinkel, it takes something special to be a kicker. While football is a team sport, the placekicker’s position is a lonely one. You’re on an island, forced to perform with thousands of eyes on your leg and three points resting squarely on your shoulders.
“It’s like a golfer," Pinkel said. "You’re in that arena. You’re out there by yourself. Obviously you need to get the snap and the hold, and you have to get the protection. But bottom line, you are called to make the kick. In a very team-oriented sport, that’s very individual. You got to have something special about you to do something like that in that kind of environment.”
After making his past seven field goals, Baggett is starting to show the ability to do that. He’s improving in practice, and the results are showing in games. But while Pinkel is excited to see his redshirt freshman kicker perhaps turning the corner, he is apprehensive about acknowledging it out loud.
“It’s really good, isn’t it?" Pinkel said. "You see him getting better in practice, too. You really see him getting better, and you hate to say that.” Pinkel stopped to ward off jinxes by knocking loudly on the wooden podium in front of him.
“You see him getting better in practice. He’s working hard, and that’s helped us.”
Certainly, Baggett is not the same player who slipped on the Lee’s Summit North turf and sent a ball directly at his center’s cranium in the summer of 2009. But while he has progressed into a formidable kicker, he still reminds himself not to make the same mistakes.
“If I try to kick it really hard, I’m probably not going to make it,” Baggett said. “But if I’m just under control and kick it smooth, I’m fine.”
Supervising editor is Grant Hodder.