Big Apple Buckeye

It's pretty much a no-brainer to call Mike Nugent the best kicker ever to hit the gridiron for Ohio State. During his stay in Columbus, which ran from 2001 through 2004, Nugent hit an impressive 24 straight field goals as a sophomore, when he was named a first-team All-America, the first Buckeye kicker to ever earn such distinction.

As a senior, he earned the Lou Groza Award, which honors the nation's top collegiate kicker and was also named OSU Team MVP, the first kicker ever to be so honored. Mike also left the Buckeyes as the holder of 12 school kicking records. In 2005, Nugent was a second-round pick of the New York Jets in the NFL Draft. Bucknuts recently caught up with him from the Big Apple and here is that exchange.

Like every player who lines up at Ohio Stadium for The Ohio State University, Nugent regards being a Buckeye with a great deal of pride. "I think it's an honor, just to be able to look back and say that I got to play for Ohio State University and for Coach (Jim) Tressel," he recalled. "The amount of people I got to meet there was an experience I wouldn't trade for anything."

Growing up in Centerville, Ohio, Nugent, like many other youngsters growing up in the Buckeye State, had visions of playing football for OSU. So, when he got the opportunity to make his dream a reality, it wasn't a hard decision. "I always wanted to go to Ohio State," Nugent admitted. "I was one of those kids who grew up always thinking about going there. I really didn't have many other offers. Central Michigan and Bowling Green were really the only other schools to offer me scholarships. I got the offer from Ohio State a little late. But once I got it, I didn't have to answer them at that point. They knew I was coming there."

As a freshman, Nugent was seven-for-14 on field goals and 27-for-29 on extra points. His biggest kicks in his debut campaign were a 35-yarder in a 31-28 win over Minnesota and a 38-yard field goal against Michigan that gave the Buckeyes a 26-13 edge.

But it was as a sophomore that Nugent really came into his own. He hit 24 straight field goals, finished with 120 points, most-ever by an OSU kicker, and earned first-team all-Big 10 Conference and All-America recognition. More importantly, the Buckeyes finished the season a perfect 14-0, a championship run that culminated with a big win over Miami in the Fiesta Bowl. Nugent still recalls how magical that entire 2002 season was, both for himself and his teammates.

"I think it was one of those things where that was what was going on with the entire team," Nugent said. "We were on a winning streak where we ended up undefeated and it was going great. I had some great guys to work with like Kyle Andrews who was our long snapper. Andy Groom was our holder at that point. The guys up front did a great job. I was very lucky that everybody in front of me did their job because that made my job even easier."

For Nugent, playing on that 2002 national title team marked the first time he had ever played on a squad that had been in such a championship-level groove. "That was probably the first time that I have," he remembered. "That ended up being such a tough season because we won every game by fewer than seven points. Having so many close games made the season even more exciting for everybody."

In 2003, Mike went 16-for-19 on field goals and a perfect 38-for-38 on extra points. Nugent hit a career-best four field goals against Michigan State, nailed a game-winner in an exciting overtime win over Purdue and nailed one from 52 yards out against Iowa, the second-longest field goal in the history of the Horseshoe.

As a senior, Nugent had another outstanding year. He hit an impressive five-of-seven kicks from 50 yards or more, twice nailed kicks form 55 yards, a career best and was a perfect 29 up and 29 down on point after attempts. For his efforts, Mike captured the Groza Award, was named Team MVP and earned first-team All-America honors for the second time as a Buckeye. He called winning that award, which was decided by his teammates, one of many highlights of his Buckeye career. "I think it was big because the players voted for it," he said. "That was the biggest part. I hoped I was a good leader on the field."

Like every good Buckeye, Nugent has his thoughts on archrival Michigan and being part of one of the biggest rivalries in all of college football. "It (the rivalry with Michigan) is probably even bigger (than people realize)," he stated. "I wish everyone in the world could experience playing or being on the field for that game. The teams have so much respect for each other. You know how hard both teams work and how hard they're going to play against you. Beating Michigan is so big for that reason alone."

Mike finished his OSU career 72-for-88 on field goals and all told, he either holds or is tied for 22 school kicking records. Those marks include most points and most by a kicker (356), most consecutive field goals (24), most games with multiple field goals (20) and best career field-goal percentage (.818).

Nugent also relished the opportunity to play for OSU head coach Jim Tressel, whom he calls a great influence on every Buckeye player, both on and off the field. "He's just an amazing coach," Nugent said. "He is very personal. He knows his players well and their parents well also. His knowledge of the game is so impressive. The things he knows and how he applies them to make you successful on the field is amazing."

With his time as a Buckeye having come to an end, Mike, like many college seniors, turned his eyes toward the NFL and started preparing for a career in professional football. Like many of his fellow prospective draftees, Nugent entered the 2005 NFL Draft not knowing exactly what to expect, but admits he did have an idea of which team's jersey he would be wearing.

"It (getting drafted by the Jets) wasn't really a surprise," Nugent related. "I was just hoping to go anywhere. I knew wherever I went, I would be happy. I feel like I have the best job in the world. I didn't really have too many expectations. I just wanted to be the first kicker taken. Achieving that goal was great. Now, I have a whole new set of goals I am trying to achieve now."

Like most NFL rookies, Nugent immediately noticed some pretty big differences between the collegiate and professional game. "The game doesn't change too much except that it's a lot faster and the guys hit a lot harder (in the NFL)," he said. "People don't make mistakes up here like they do in college or high school. Up here, if you make a mistake, the other team is all over it."

Last year, as a rookie for the Jets, Nugent was money in the bank when he came on the field for the J-E-T-S. He was a perfect 24-for-24 on point after attempts and went 22-for-28 on field goals. In a Week 17 win over Buffalo, Mike was three-for-three on field goals, one of those a career-high from 49 yards. In a victory over Oakland in Week 14, he hit four field goals, two extra points and also had a tackle on special teams.

But as good as Mike was as a rookie, he was even better as an NFL sophomore. After 15 games, Nugent was 32-for-33 on extra points and an impressive 21-for-24 on field goals, which means he converts field goal opportunities into points nearly 88% of the time. That number takes on added significance considering that Mike finished his rookie season making 79% of his field goals. His kicking likely becomes even more important for the Jets as they have positioned themselves for a possible playoff berth.

The Jets contending for a spot in the postseason is even more impressive considering that the team changed head coaches in the offseason. The man picked to lead the team, Eric Mangini, was initially questioned by both fans and media but he and his team have quickly made believers of everyone in the Big Apple. "I'm really excited for the position we've put ourselves in," Nugent said. "We've done a good job of focusing on the task at hand and how we can get better today in practice and use that to become a better team."

Since Mike has been a kicker for a long time, one thing he is very familiar with is the high amount of pressure that comes with his position. "It's one thing that comes with the job is being able to be successful when you're called upon," Nugent stated. "You have to stay steady and keep your emotions in check. When you do something well, I try not to get too high and when I don't, I don't get too low."

Like every kicker, Nugent admits that he has his share of rituals and superstitions, especially when it comes to preparing what could be his next game-winning kick. That includes his teammates staying away from him. "I don't think anyone is deliberately trying to ignore you (before a big kick)," he said. "My teammates know my routine well. I don't talk beforehand about field goals because I don't want to jinx it."

During his career at Ohio State, Mike Nugent was regarded as one of the top kickers in all of college football. He finished his career a two-time first-team All-American, the holder of numerous school records and won the Lou Groza Award as the nation's top collegiate kicker as a senior. Now in his second NFL season, Nugent hasn't skipped a beat in his leap to the professional ranks. He continues to be a virtual lock when he runs out with the kicking team for the New York Jets. As a Buckeye, Mike built a well-deserved reputation as a big-game kicker. With the Jets in contention for a 2006 playoff spot, he could have a chance or two to build a similar reputation in the pros in only his second professional campaign. Nugent played in his share of big games at OSU, experiences which he is sure to build on in the tough life of an NFL kicker where a kicker can be the hero one day, the goat the next and maybe even out of a job by the third day. But for ex-OSU kicker Mike Nugent, he is content for now to enjoy the ride of being an NFL kicker and helping the Jets possibly make the postseason.

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