Middlebury College grad to hit the field at the Super Bowl
MIDDLEBURY — Steven Hauschka looks not so different from everybody else in the Middlebury College class of 2007 facebook. Sandwiched between Casey Harwood and Tristan Hayes, Hauschka’s photo shows a fresh-faced kid from Needham, Mass., who had come to Middlebury to get a first-class education and play soccer.
Four years later he left Middlebury having completed the educational goal — he graduated with a B.A. in neuroscience — but he hadn’t played varsity soccer. Hauschka played JV his freshman fall, but before his sophomore year he tried out for the Panther football team. The rest, they say, is history.
Hauschka piled up records and honors as Middlebury’s placekicker and punter — All-NESCAC three times, school record holder in single-season (10) and career (20) field goals — went on to the NFL, and this weekend will suit up to play for the NFC-Champion Seattle Seahawks in Super Bowl XLVIII.
“I’m not surprised that once he put his mind to this he achieved this goal,” said Panther Head Football Coach Bob Ritter. “He’s really a focused kid.
“He’s just a great guy — very bright, very confident. He’s a fun guy to coach.”
Hauschka, 28, has become a mainstay of the Seahawks offense in his three years with the team, playing all 16 regular season games in each of these seasons plus all of the post-season contests. This year he set a Seahawks record for points in a season by a kicker with 143. He’s made 89 percent of his field goal attempts at Seattle (that’s 94 percent this past season including a 53-yard three-pointer). He’s been perfect in both field goal and point-after attempts during the playoffs in the past two seasons. In 2011 he set a team record by going five-for-five on field goal attempts in a single game.
But Hauschka hasn’t taken a straight line to NFL success. Knowing that he needed some experience playing Division-I college football if he was going to catch the attention of NFL scouts, he played his last year of NCAA eligibility at North Carolina State, which needed a kicker. Characteristically, Hauschka made the most of this opportunity, kicking a game winner vs. the Miami Hurricanes and catching the eyes of the scouts. He completed 16 of 18 field goal attempts and was a finalist for the Lou Groza Award, which is given to the best college kicker.
Coincidentally, while kicking for the Wolfpack, Hauschka played with two freshmen — quarterback Russell Wilson and lineman J.R. Sweezy — who are both now teammates of his on the Seahawks.
As is typical in the NFL, Hauschka bounced from team to team looking to find his place.
He was signed by the Minnesota Vikings in 2008 but cut before the season. He was picked up by the Baltimore Ravens that fall and started with the team in 2009. But Hauschka was waived by the Ravens that fall, only to be picked up by the Atlanta Falcons, who waived him before the 2010 season.
He started the 2010 preseason with the Detroit Lions, was waived, and then picked up by the Las Vegas Locomotives of the United Football Leagues. It was with the Locomotives that Hauschka got a taste for what it feels like to win a national championship. The Locomotives beat the Florida Tuskers in the UFL Championship game, played in Omaha. Hauschka scored three points-after in a game that Las Vegas won 23-20.
His peripatetic career in professional football did not get Hauschka down. His stats show that he grew stronger, better and more consistent during his years being shuffled from team to team. His former Panther coach is not surprised that Hauschka persevered and is now excelling at his chosen sport.
“He never got down on himself and always was looking to make himself better,” Coach Ritter said. “That all helped him hone himself — the mental part, not just the physical part.”
As fate would have it, Hauschka started the 2011 season with the Denver Broncos. He was a teammate of Matt Prater, who was in his fourth year as a Bronco. Denver sized up the two kickers, opted for Prater and waived Hauschka, who was quickly picked up by the Seahawks, where he has performed at the highest level.
Did Denver make the wrong choice? Prater himself has had his own exceptional career with the Broncos and a superlative season in 2013-14. Prater has completed 93.8 percent of his field goal attempts this season (30 of 32), and he made the longest field goal in NFL history — 64 yards. He’s also made six field goals of 50 yards or longer (Hauschka is three-for-three this year beyond 50 yards).
Prater made four field goals vs. the New England Patriots in the AFC Championship — securing a 26-16 win that put the Broncos in Super Bowl XLVIII vs. the Seahawks.
When the Seahawks and the Broncos take the field in East Rutherford, N.J., at 6:30 p.m. this Sunday, both teams will be filled with some of the best players in the NFL. One of those players will carry memories of competing for the Middlebury College Panthers, and of four years in the classroom, campus and town surrounding the college.
Ritter, who coached Steven Hauschka in lacrosse as well as football, sees big things for his former charge come Sunday evening.
“I think he’s going to do great,” Ritter said. “He’s really dialed in.”
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