The absence of the Bills in the playoffs once again may be disheartening to many Buffalo fans, but there is one player playing in the Super Bowl on Sunday with Western New York ties.
Seattle Seahawks placekicker Steven Hauschka, whose father is an Amherst, New York native, will take the field at MetLife Stadium on Sunday with an opportunity to win a championship. Something he never expected to do ten years ago.
Hauschka was a freshman at Division III Middlebury College in Vermont ten years ago, as a member of the soccer team. In fact, he had never played football before.
“When I got to college I wanted to play soccer, but it didn’t really work out my freshman year,” said Hauschka. “So, I decided to change disciplines and try kicking a football. My roommate was a football player, Scott Secor, and he convinced me to tryout my sophomore year of college.”
Hauschka would not only win both the kicking and punting jobs at Middlebury, but he became a two-time all-conference performer.
After completing his Bachelor’s degree in Neuroscience, Hauschka thought his football career may be over and began applying to dental schools. But with one more year of eligibility remaining, the desire to continue his football career remained.
“When I was done with Middlebury I thought my football career was over with, even though I had year of eligibility left,” said Hauschka. “I was looking at dental schools, but I wanted to continue playing football. So, I called up some Division I schools who had graduated their kickers. N.C. State was interested in having me walk on.”
Hauschka won the job at North Carolina State, and he went 16-for-18 on field goal attempts, earning him a tryout in the NFL.
He was signed by the Minnesota Vikings as an undrafted free agent but was released prior to the 2008 season. Not long after, Hauschka was claimed off of waivers by the Baltimore Ravens, and was finally activated off of the practice squad midway through the season to handle kickoff and long-range field goal duties for the aging Matt Stover.
Following the 2008 season, the Ravens opted to re-sign Hauschka rather than Stover to become the primary field goal kicker.
After starting the 2009 season 8-for-10, things began to go downhill for Hauschka. After missing 2 of his last 3 field goals and an extra point, he was released from the Ravens in November.
Hauschka bounced around for over a full season, making stops in Atlanta, Detroit and the UFL’s Las Vegas Locomotives.
Despite the fact that he failed to land a job for so long, the idea of giving up on football never crossed his mind.
“I never thought that I was done with football,” said Hauschka. “Maybe it crossed my mind that I wasn’t getting another opportunity, but I knew that if I got another opportunity I would perform well. I was kicking well in practices. There were a lot of mental things that kickers have to go through and it was part of my journey. It made me a better and stronger kicker.”
Finally, he got an opportunity in Denver after All-Pro kicker Matt Prater was sidelined with an injury. Hauschka would kick in the final four games of the 2010 season, going 6-of-7 on field goals and a perfect 10-of-10 on extra points.
With Prater returning the following season, he was released by the Broncos a week before the 2011 regular season began, but he wasn’t out of work for long as the Seahawks signed him the following day.
Since arriving in Seattle, Hauschka has become one of the most accurate kickers in the NFL.
This season has been his best, connecting on 33-of-35 field goal attempts. His 94% accuracy broke the Seattle single-season record and he currently holds the franchise record for career accuracy.
The one-time soccer player knows how incredible his journey has been since his days as a college freshman.
“It is pretty crazy how far I’ve come, to think that I hadn’t even played or put football pads on ten years ago,” said Hauschka. “It just shows that with hard work, dedication and maybe a little bit of luck how for you can come.”
This Sunday, Hauschka will not only have an opportunity to defeat his former team, but to win a Super Bowl.
That’s a pretty incredible feat for someone who wasn’t even a football player ten years ago.