Norwegian kicker dreams of NFL after viral video
By MATTIAS KAREN, AP Sports Writer
Aside from his ability to boot the ball through the uprights from
almost kind of angle or distance, Havard Rugland is a complete stranger
to the American version of football.
And yet the 28-year-old Norwegian, without having played a single game
at any level of the sport, is suddenly pursuing a shot at making it to
the NFL. And it's all because of a YouTube video.
Sound incredible? Well, so are some of the kicks and tricks Rugland can
pull off with his powerful left leg.
That's why the video he put together for some friends has turned him
into an Internet sensation, with 2 million views and counting. And
that's why the same video turned into an inadvertent auditioning tape -
earning him a tryout last month with the New York Jets.
At a time when people are increasingly taking to social media to
showcase their talent, Rugland might be on the verge of going from
viral-video-of-the-week to pro athlete.
''I never would have thought it would come to this,'' he said during a
recent phone interview from his home in southern Norway. ''I put the
film up mostly for friends and family. But as it turns out, there were
a lot more people who liked it. It's overwhelming.''
Must be, for someone whose only previous experience with football was
the European soccer version, and who has only a sketchy familiarity
with the rules of the American game. Living in Aalgaard, a town with
less than 10,000 people, he started kicking for fun about a year ago
after his local soccer club shut down and he needed another outlet.
Having seen other online videos of people doing tricks with Frisbees
and basketballs, he figured he'd make one with footballs to showcase
his booming leg. He posted it online in mid-September, and three months
later he was auditioning for the Jets.
So what is it about his four-minute video - ''Kickalicious'' - that has
people so impressed? Well, the footage of him kicking field goals from
60 yards and soccer-style volleys through the uprights is the least of
His more spectacular repertoire includes kicking the ball into a
basketball hoop - nothing but net - and into the arms of people in
moving cars, floating down a lake in a boat, or atop a hill. For his
grand finale, he casually punts one football into the air, then kicks a
second ball off a tee so it hits the first one in midair.
''I'm probably the most satisfied with the last kick, which is the one
I've received the most compliments about,'' Rugland said. ''I needed
eight tries before I pulled it off.''
He insists there was no trickery with the actual filming - done with
two brothers and a friend - but said he needed several attempts to pull
off some of the other kicks as well. When local media picked up his
story, a Norwegian broadcaster reviewed the video to make sure it was
real, silencing some skeptics who believed it must have been doctored.
And unlike so many other posted videos, interest in Rugland's kicks
While it was racking up hits in the hundreds of thousands, Rugland
received an email from Scott Cohen, assistant general manager of the
Jets, who was interested in giving him a workout.
Rugland wondered if he was being scammed.
''When I received that, obviously I was excited, but I had to check out
the name and email address to make sure it was genuine, and not some
friend who was pulling a prank,'' he said.
It was real. The Jets were genuinely interested - on the condition that
Rugland spend some time with a kicking coach first to hone his skills.
So the week after Thanksgiving, the Norwegian traveled to California to
spend a few weeks with Michael Husted - a former NFL kicker who now
runs a training camp in San Diego and had reached out to Rugland after
seeing his video on a Facebook page.
Husted said he's often approached by soccer players interested in
trying their hand - or foot, rather - at kicking field goals, hoping to
become the next Sebastian Janikowski. But he had seen enough of Rugland
in the video to know he was special.
''He's definitely the most impressive nonfootball kicker that I've
worked with,'' Husted said by phone. ''When he hits it, it's going to
go. He hits it just as high, just as far as a lot of the NFL kickers,
if not further.''
In fact, Husted sees a lot of similarities between Rugland and
Janikowski, the Oakland Raiders kicker from Poland. They're both
left-footed, more than 6 feet tall and have the same kind of leg
Rugland's video shows him hitting field goals from 60 yards with ease.
The NFL record - shared by Janikowski and three others - is 63 yards.
Rugland thinks he could hit one from ''well beyond'' 60, and Husted
said that's very possible.
''Heck, if he's in Denver he can probably hit it from 65,'' Husted said.
The Jets liked what they saw enough to invite Rugland back for a second
audition in March.
Meantime, he wants to spend more time with Husted to refine his
technique and consistency, and he's looking for a sponsor to help pay
for another stay in San Diego since he would need to take an unpaid
leave of absence from his job as a youth counselor for the local child
Training on his own isn't so easy these days, given the winter climate
''It's hard to get better when you're practicing in the snow,'' he said.
Husted has put him in touch with an agent, Jill McBride Baxter, who is
trying to get him back in the U.S.
''It's not easy,'' said the Los Angeles-based McBride Baxter, whose
other NFL clients include Jets punter Robert Malone and Miami Dolphins
wide receiver Marlon Moore. ''He's got a life in Norway. He works with
youth. He's got a job. He's got a dog.''
He also still has a lot to work on. Power is one thing, but getting
timing and technique right is equally important. Before working with
Husted, Rugland had never kicked with a snap and hold.
And, of course, it remains to be seen whether Rugland can perform as
well in a game situation. Some current NFL players, who had watched his
video online, weren't so sure.
''It's a cool video,'' Arizona Cardinals kicker Jay Feely said, ''but I
don't know if it necessarily translates to kicking field goals
consistently in a timed, pressurized environment.''
New York Giants punter Steve Weatherford agreed.
''I think he's talented, but there's a different dynamic when you have
a video camera and 1,000 chances versus when there's 80,000 people
screaming at you (at a game) and you only have one shot,'' Weatherford
said. ''You can't teach that skill.''
Rugland, though, said he thinks his Scandinavian nerves can handle the
''It's hard to say before you've experienced it,'' he said. ''But I
imagine it will be a bit like a penalty kick in soccer. I was under a
lot pressure during the (Jets) tryout, and a lot of people would freeze
up at something like that because there's a lot of people watching you.
But that went well, so I think I have good chances of handling it.''
The Jets may not be Rugland's only hope of making the NFL. Husted said
the Raiders, Green Bay Packers and Philadelphia Eagles have also
contacted him for scouting reports. He said the ''ideal situation'' for
the Norwegian may be to get picked up on the practice squad by one team
and spend a year honing his skills - the same route taken by Australian
punter Darren Bennett in the 1990s.
Bennett was an Australian Rules football player who was given a workout
by the San Diego Chargers during his honeymoon in California, and ended
up becoming one of the top punters in the NFL.
Rugland thinks he can make a similar journey.
''If you have the quality that's required, you'll get the chance,'' he
said. ''I probably have to prove a bit more than others, and impress
people a bit more. Those I'm competing against have played in the NFL
for several years, or at least played in high school and college. But I
believe in it myself, that if everything goes perfectly then it is a
realistic chance. Although it's still a long way to go.''
And if things don't work out with the NFL. Rugland's YouTube video may
at least turn into a different kind of film.
Husted said he was contacted by a producer.
''He thinks there may be a movie in this,'' he said.
Trick Shots Will Get Attention Of NFL
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