Playing it cool
The most accurate kicker in the country, Mizzou's Grant Ressel has ice in his veins
Sophomore Grant Ressel walked onto the Mizzou football team as a freshman and became the most accurate kicker in the NCAA.
He’d rather not feel the heat of the spotlight, but under fire no kicker in the country has been cooler than Mizzou’s Grant Ressel. His 96 percent accuracy on field goals leads the NCAA, but none of Ressel’s previous kicks had quite the pressure of the game winner against Kansas that ended the regular season. The kick, which gave the Tigers a 41-39 win, proved Ressel has ice in his veins.
Though he was the toast of Mizzou fans everywhere following his clutch kick, Ressel can walk into most places in Columbia without turning a single head. Anonymity is easier to come by when you don’t tower over the average person like receiver Danario Alexander, break the scales like linemen Jaron Baston and Kurtis Gregory, or constantly see your image in multiple media outlets like quarterback Blaine Gabbert. Even when out volunteering with STRIPES, Mizzou’s student-run safe-ride program, Ressel goes unnoticed.
“Nobody recognizes me at all,” the baby-faced redhead says. “I just blend in with the crowd. I like it like that.”
Ressel got started as a kicker because he was smaller than his football-playing peers. In seventh grade, in his youth football league, he tried playing wide receiver but never got into the games in that position. Because he had played soccer his entire life, he gave kicking a try, and things just clicked.
Ressel experienced more success at Jackson High School in Jackson, Mo., where he earned all-conference, all-district and all-region honors his senior season after going 30-of-30 on point after attempts and 5-of-6 on field goals. He graduated holding the single-season and career PAT percentage record for Class 5 in the state of Missouri with a three-year PAT success rate of 95.4 percent (82-of-86).
Although he was offered scholarships to some smaller schools, Ressel decided to come to Mizzou and take a chance as a walk-on with the football team in fall 2007.
“My brother went here, and I was born here in Columbia before my family moved away,” Ressel says. “We always came back to watch games. It’s where I always wanted to come.”
Ressel has been named to the coaches and Associated Press All-Big 12 first teams. He and the other Tigers take on the Navy Midshipmen in the Texas Bowl Thursday.
In his first two years, Ressel watched Jeff Wolfert set records for scoring and kick accuracy, picking up tips and tricks along the way. Going into the preseason this year, the redshirt sophomore was listed in the team media guide as second on the depth chart with a chance at “competing for reps." The competition went well for Ressel, and he went on to be a perfect 30-for-30 on PATs and a near perfect 24-of-25 on field goals.
“I just think we’re very fortunate. We’ve had some good success with walk-on kickers,” coach Gary Pinkel says. “Look at the last game; it’s pretty simple. We probably had a chance to score at the end, but I didn’t want to risk someone getting tackled or something going wrong. So what I did was trust Grant. It’s invaluable; I can’t say enough positive things.”
In that game, a shoot-out with Kansas in Kansas City's Arrowhead Stadium, Ressel knew he was likely to get a chance to win with just under three minutes left on the clock. With 2:49 left, the Mizzou defense forced a safety to cut the Kansas lead to 39-38. Running back Derrick Washington broke off a long run down to the five yard line with just under a minute left, but instead of going for the touchdown, the Tigers kneeled the ball to run down the clock and line up the field goal.
With four seconds left, the Tigers called their final timeout. It all came down to Ressel.
“I’d just assumed we’d win by, like, 20 points,” Ressel says. “I didn’t want to think about the kick. I was just thinking, ‘Focus on the ball. Focus on fundamentals.’”
Taking three steps back and two to the left, Ressel eyed the uprights. Hearts of Mizzou fans everywhere pounded as they watched an athletic feat that had been automatic all season long; it seemed too good to be true. The ball was snapped and placed perfectly. Step, plant, kick. The 27-yarder sailed straight through, and the stadium exploded. Ressel rode the shoulders of his teammates out of Arrowhead.
“Decision-wise for me, it makes it a lot easier because you’re not sitting there asking what his accuracy is in certain ranges. So many of your gameday decisions parallel your opinions and views of your kicker,” says Pinkel, who looks forward to counting on Ressel's reliability in future seasons. "We’re very, very fortunate he’s a sophomore.”
In the weeks that followed, Ressel was named to the coaches and Associated Press All-Big 12 first teams and several other All America teams. While he considers the recognition nice, it doesn’t really matter much to him.
“You don’t do it for awards,” Ressel says. “You do it to help the team out, and that’s my job.”
Regardless of his feelings about awards, Ressel is expected to be on every preseason watch list there is for kickers going into next season. Opponents may try to freeze him, but odds are they're the ones who will be left out in the cold.