Nov. 12, 2012
Special teams are the backbone of any good football team. The offense scores points and the defense wins championships, but it's the special teams that hold it all together. Where some people might view the kicking game as a few extra seconds of their commercial break, in reality you would be hard pressed to find a good team with poor special teams.
A lot of the Houston Cougars' recent success can be contributed to their special teams. From blocking kicks to kickoff returns for touchdowns, the Houston special teams unit has become a weapon as of late. Perhaps the most reliable of those weapons over the last four years has been senior kicker Matt Hogan.
The Cougars begin their drive inside their own territory. As they begin to make their way down the field, Matt Hogan can tell this drive is going to result in points. Whether it will be a field goal or a point after touchdown, Hogan begins to warm up pumping kicks into the practice net.
Hogan, a Keller, Texas native, has made an appearance in every game since his freshman season in 2009. He has been a staple to the Cougar football program just as kicking has been a staple his entire football life.
"When I was in eighth grade I tore my ACL and wanted to come back and play football," said Hogan. "But I wasn't quite ready. My parents let me come back and kick. I wanted to play other positions but my parents said no. I wasn't allowed to, but thankfully they made the right choice."
The Cougars have marched their way across their opponent's forty yard line and are entering the field goal range of Matt Hogan. He fires one more practice shot into the net, and then makes his way down to the end of the bench on the opposite side of the field.
His parents' decision was the right one for Hogan. In the Cougars' game against UTEP earlier this season, Hogan became Conference USA's all-time leading scorer with 317 points on 53 field goals and 218 extra points made.
"It was pretty cool to break that record," said Hogan. "I didn't know until two days after the game. It was a cool accomplishment and I hope to build on it. Records are also meant to be broken so hopefully somebody can shoot for that down the road."
The drive for the Cougars has stalled and the field goal unit is called upon. Hogan trots on from the opposite 20-yard line, eyeing the goal posts the entire time, because he likes to watch the distance between them seemingly get wider and wider.
Though it is Hogan who has booted the ball through the uprights nearly 300 times, he knows none of that would be possible without the ten other guys on the field all doing their job.
The play starts with the deep snap, and for Hogan, that comes from one of the best in the country at doing his job; Brandon Hartson.
"The first thing that comes is the snap from Brandon Hartson," said Hogan. "I've been with him for four years. The kid is incredible. He just keeps getting better and better every day."
From there, the kick is foiled without perfect blocking and a perfect hold.
"The blocking up front has been tremendous," said Hogan "I can't kick without them, and last of all; the holder, Crawford Jones, my high school teammate and roommate, has been excellent since he started holding. He's been one of the best things for me. Most of my success goes to those two."
Hogan takes two practice swings as he makes his way to his holder Crawford Jones. The two pick out a spot and set up for the kick. Hogan takes three steps back, two steps left, and sets.
Though Hogan may look calm and collected on the field; the pressure that comes with the kicking game is incredible. Even still, Hogan thrives on that pressure which has helped him to connect on nearly 93 percent of the kicks attempted in his career.
"If I mess up everyone knows," said Hogan. "If you're in this position you want that pressure. You live for that pressure. If you crumble under it then you're not in the right position. I embrace it. I enjoy it. I enjoy being out there when the eyes are all on me. I enjoy the game coming down to me."
Hogan looks up from the ball spot and finds his target. Either a spot in the crowd or on the scoreboard: never the goal posts. He goes up on the tips of his toes and takes a deep breath to relax. He gives a nod to Jones to signal he is ready. "Set". The snap. The hold. The kick...
Most people think the kicking game is the easiest faction of the sport. You just kick the ball through those two yellow posts right? But there is so much more to the art than that. The amount of pressure combined with the necessity to be perfect makes kicking a demanding task.
"There is a lot that goes into it," said Hogan. "Everything has to be perfect. A fraction of an inch can change everything. It's quite a perfectionist's craft."
The kick is good.