SAN DIEGO – Just call him “Kickalicious.”
That’s what coaches with the Detroit Lions did after they couldn’t pronounce Havard Rugland’s name during a tryout earlier this week.
Rugland is the Norwegian Internet kicking sensation who hopes to parlay his incredible trick-shot video – which he called “Kickalicious” – into a dream job kicking for an NFL team.
Next up for Rugland is a trip to Michael Husted’s pro kicking camp in Florida, where the goal is to be seen by more NFL teams.
Rugland feels his tryout in Detroit went well, despite tweaking the hamstring in his powerful left leg. He’s refined his kicking motion while working with Husted in San Diego since having a tryout with the New York Jets in December.
“I think the thing they liked most was my leg strength,” said Rugland, who is 6-foot-2 1/2 and 240 pounds. “That’s always good. Of course, you’re always working on your consistency. That’s never 100 per cent, so that’s what I’m working on.”
While Rugland works to learn a sport he became familiar with only about two years ago by watching the Super Bowl on TV, NFL personnel are learning about Rugland. His first name is pronounced HO-var.
“They tried to pronounce my name but just went with ‘Kickalicious,’ Rugland said.
The video of the same name has amassed more than 2.5 million views since Rugland posted it in September. It shows the former soccer player kicking and punting a football through uprights from as far away as 60 yards, from straight on and also from incredible angles. He also kicks a ball to a friend on a boat on a lake, in a moving car, on a skateboard, on a railroad bridge, on a hill, on a bluff overlooking a beach and over trees.
So he’s got the showmanship down. Now he’s trying to get a job kicking field goals and PATs in front of 70,000 fans on Sundays.
“I’m pretty optimistic,” he during an interview Thursday afternoon at La Jolla High, one of his practice sites. “I believe I’ve got a pretty good chance to get a contract. If not right away, I will get one because I really do think that I’m at least going to be good enough and I just have to be better than the people I’m competing with and make them believe in me and go with a guy without too much experience.”
Husted and Rugland’s agent, Jill McBride Baxter, are optimistic, too.
“He’s got great potential,” Husted said. “On the other side, you need more than that. You need connections and to have a little bit of luck on your side, I always tell people that there are kickers who were better than me who did not make it, and I was fortunate to have a nine-year NFL career.”
Husted said the ideal situation would be for Rugland to be signed by a team and then have minicamps, training camp and exhibition games to see how he adjusts and acclimates to the NFL. An alternative would be for a team to recognize his potential and sign him to the practice squad where he could learn for a year.
Husted said he’s gotten Rugland to shorten his approach from three steps to two, to follow through and use his whole body.
“He’s a big boy, 245, so if he can get enough weight into it, it’ll fly.”
Husted said he’s also heard from Jan Stenerud, the only pure kicker in the Hall of Fame who also happens to be from Norway.
“I grew up idolizing Jan Stenerud as a kid,” Husted said. “He’s excited to see another Norwegian have an opportunity to make it in the NFL.”
Baxter said several teams are interested in having Rugland work out for them, but it all depends on how free agency and the draft play out.
“Whatever teams want to work him out, he’s ready,” said Baxter, the daughter of former Utah coach Ron McBride and wife of John Baxter, Southern California’s associate head coach-special teams co-ordinator. “Who it’s going to be, I don’t know. Let’s see what happens on March 12th when free agency starts. That will give me more guidance on where it’s going to go next.”
For instance, Detroit’s Jason Hanson could become a free agent unless the two sides reach a deal by Tuesday. On Wednesday, San Francisco released six-time Pro Bowl kicker David Akers.
Husted said the players who do well early in his pro camp get to kick in front of NFL coaches next Thursday, and how they do then dictates whether teams want to bring them in for private workouts.
“I’m looking forward to seeing what the pro camp has to offer him,” Husted said. “I’ve got teams coming down interested in watching him kick. He’s got a lot of great potential. As long as he continues to stay focused and work hard, I think he has a good opportunity to earn a spot or at least get signed, and the rest is up to him after that.”
Rugland is trying to take a similar route to the NFL as Darren Bennett, the former Australian Rules Football player who became a star punter for the San Diego Chargers in the mid-1990s.
Bennett was so raw that during his first tryout with the Chargers, during his honeymoon, a snap hit him in the face.
Rugland hasn’t had such a moment.
“No, I’ve done pretty good then!” he said. “But he had to catch them himself. I’m just standing there. I’ve got a holder doing that job.”
Bennett was a two-time Pro Bowler.
“Of course I wouldn’t mind having a career like him,” Rugland said. “That’s a lot to hope for. Just get a contract first and then see what happens. He has done what I’m trying to do.”
After the workout with the Jets, Rugland returned home and secured a sponsorship from Norwegian company Videxio, which allowed him to come to San Diego.
“It costs a little bit of money to stay here,” he said.
The perfect destination for Rugland, of course, would be the Minnesota Vikings, but they have All-Pro kicker Blair Walsh.
In the meantime, Rugland has spent time practicing at La Jolla High, home of the Vikings.
“I feel right at home,” Rugland said.
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