Florham Park N.J. - Three seconds stood frozen on the clock in the 2011 AFC Wild Card Game. Just 32 yards separated the New York Jets from a date with the New England Patriots in the AFC Divisional Round. Nick Folk stood on the field. He stretched his cannon of a leg, he nodded his head, and the ball was hiked his way. Next thing Jets fans remember was Folk turning around with a fist pump to the Indianapolis sky because he just punched his team's ticket to Foxborough. If faith wasn't instilled in Folk already, that may have clinched it.
Former Jets coach Rex Ryan dubbed him the "Folk Hero." It seemed like on a weekly basis, Folk would come through for his team in a big way. Whether it was his signature 55-yard field goal or a 25-yard chip shot, the Jets were confident they found their kicker for years to come.
The Jets have had many kickers in their history. Names like Jim Turner and Pat Leahy or Mike Nugent and Jay Feely come to mind. Some were very dependable while others could make a stomach churn. That is part of the position. Kickers have one of the toughest jobs in the league with plenty of stress, yet they are not on the field nearly as much as other star players at the skilled positions. Make no mistake, they are just as important. That is what makes Nick Folk so special.
Folk joined the Jets in 2010 after playing three seasons with the Dallas Cowboys. In four out of Folk's six seasons with New York, the kicker has put up 60 points or more. Since 2010, Folk has seen his field goal conversion percentage increase to a career best 91.7% in 2013, but then a slight dip in production in the following two campaigns likely attributed to injury.
Fans remember his game-winners against the Dallas Cowboys in 2011, the 2013 season opener vs. Tampa Bay, and the OT-thrillers against Atlanta and New England. Those games define Folk's successful tenure with the Jets; he is a clutch kicker with ice in his veins.
This year, Folk faces a challenge more difficult than the 60-yard field goal he nailed in June minicamps. For the first time in his career, he missed multiple games due to injury and was forced to play just eight in 2015. At 31-years-old, his ability will start to be questioned. Yet, he enters training camp in 2016 with a chip on his shoulder to prove he still has the power and accuracy in his legs.
"I hit probably three or four with a long of maybe 63," Folk told the media after the Jets final minicamp of the spring. "You never know when you're going to be in that situation. It's become such a field position game that your money kicks are going to be from the 49 and in or the 50 and in."
After a Grade 1 quadriceps strain in his kicking leg landed Folk on the injured reserve in 2015, the nine-year veteran's ability was tested. Randy Bullock did a competent job in relief converting 14 of 17 attempted field goals, but Folk's presence was missed on and off the field. He came to camp fully healed and ready to start all 16 games in 2016.
"[Nick] has done a nice job," said new special teams coordinator Brant Boyer. "He provides veteran leadership in the room. Nick's a pro. He understands how to take care of his body very well."
Boyer knows a thing or two about kickers. He was the assistant special teams coach for the Indianapolis Colts and was able to watch one of the greatest kickers in the game, Adam Vinatieri, on a daily basis.
"I see similarities in the way they prepare," said Boyer. "Both of them really take care of their bodies and understand how their bodies feel. If you play a long time in this league, you better know how to take care of yourself. They both do a good job with that."
This season will be a test for Folk to see if he can still be one of the more reliable kickers in the league. He has an impressive streak going, as Folk has not missed an extra point in his career, a perfect 311 made out of 311 attempts. His 81.3 field goal conversion percentage in 2015 was his lowest since 2012 but he remains committed on being the Folk Hero the fanbase knows him best as.
Joe Barone is a staff writer for JetsInsider.com/NYJScout.com. He can be reached on Twitter (@28JoeBarone), or via email (firstname.lastname@example.org)