A visit with former All-American Jeff Jaeger

There was a time when Husky football spoiled its fans with great place kickers. The years 1978-1986 brought forth the likes of Mike Lansford (All Pac-10), Chuck Nelson (All-American) and Jeff Jaeger (All-American). These three players also enjoyed long and productive NFL careers.

In the two decades since Jaeger's departure, Washington hasn't had any kicker within a Gulf of Mexico's distance of being All-American. At times, the struggles have been traumatic to witness (e.g. 1995 vs. Oregon). With the Huskies flying east to Syracuse today, all eyes will soon be looking toward sophomore Ryan Perkins with hopes he can bring solid production to a team that desperately needs it.

In regards to Jeff Jaeger, Dawgman.com recently spoke with the former strong-legged kicker to talk some football. The discussion began with his thoughts about Washington's spotty kicking production for the past several seasons.

"I have to say, watching for the last fifteen years as a Husky fan, we have had some good spots, but also some struggles," he said. "But I think the biggest thing that people need to remember is that back when Lansford, Chuck and I played, we had wide uprights and a tee when kicking field goals. That needs to be taken into consideration. It is tougher to kick in college than it is in the pros. In the NFL, the uprights are just as wide as the hash marks, so if you hit it straight, it's good. But think about a field goal in college, especially from close in; you can have really tough angles."

When asked what kind of difference that kicking without a tee makes, Jaeger was emphatic.

"It's a huge, dramatic difference," he said with a laugh. "If I was allowed to kick off a tee, I could still kick today! When you're kicking off the ground, it's a huge difference in the amount of physical power needed to lift the ball up into the air. I will give you an example from a guy who played in my era. You remember (the diminutive) John Lee from UCLA? Here's a guy who was the fifth pick in the second round of the NFL draft, and yet he only attempted 13 field goals in his (pro) career. It's strictly because he went from kicking off a tee, to kicking off the ground. He just wasn't big enough. He couldn't even get it over the line of scrimmage. If you get drafted in the second round, that's really high for a kicker. And yet you only get 13 career attempts—what does that tell you?"

It was legendary New York Yankee catcher Yogi Berra who once said, "Baseball is 90% mental, and the other half is physical." When considering the unique role that kickers play on a football team, and the success or failure which is determined from a single moment, Jaeger was asked about the psychology involved.

"If I had to put a percentage on it," he said, "I would put more than half of it on the mental part. I've got a few kids in high school that I have been helping. It's a whole different deal with them. What I mean is that there are plenty of kids who play soccer and have a strong leg. They can go out and kick well with no snap or with the ball just sitting there with no rush. But then you throw in the snap, throw in the rushing linemen, and throw in the crowd noise, it makes it tough. The ability to concentrate is the biggest deal. It's where you can calm yourself down and let your body do what it knows what to do.

"When I was starting out (as a freshman in 1983), I was looking all over the place, going OH MY GOD," he said. "But you know-- it was a learning experience. After the first couple of games, I got it figured out. I would run out there (with the field goal team), line up the tee and never look up. I would mentally draw a line from the ball to about two feet in front of the ball, knowing that if I just kicked the ball straight along that line, it was going to go through the uprights. That helped get rid of all the peripheral noise and help me concentrate."

When asked about his Husky career in which he was a four-year starter, Jaeger revealed a mind-blowing fact: Despite kicking a NCAA-record 80 field goals and being named an All-American, he was never called upon to kick a game-winner.

"The only pressure kick I had in college was my last home game against UCLA (in 1986)," he said. "That one was for a tie. I remember that UCLA called timeout, and was doing a little `ice the kicker' thing. You know, and it was actually kind of working!" However, Jaeger drilled the ball through the uprights as time expired, pulling Washington into a 17-17 tie. That bittersweet game comprised part of a season that saw Washington go 8-3-1.

Now, as we look ahead to the 2007 season—which kicks off in mere hours-- Jaeger reflects on his Dawgs.

"That schedule is brutal," he said. "I feel bad for those guys. I guarantee you that they will have a better team this year, but ironically they might have a worse record than last year's 5-7. I have had the chance to talk to Coach Willingham a couple of times at golf tournaments, and I have been very, very impressed with how he handles himself. You got to like the kids he's bringing in, and it makes you proud to be a Husky. I know things are tough right now, but we will get it turned around here soon."

Jeff Jaeger currently lives on the Eastside with his wife Angela, and daughters Brooke and Lexi. Since retiring from the NFL, he has been working for Windermere Real Estate.
Derek Johnson can be reached at derekjohnsonbooks@comcast.net

His website is www.derekjohnsonbooks.com

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