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Aaron Heintzelman

Greg Zuerlein is KILLING IT at Rams training camp

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Jerry Partridge knew he had a big hole to fill when kicker Greg Zurlein graduated from Missouri Western last year after just one year on the team.

Zuerlein went 9 of 9 in 50+-yard field goal attempts in his only season in St. Joseph after spending three years at Nebraska-Omaha before they dropped their program.

“I told the booster club right after the season ended,” Patridge said Monday at MIAA Media Day in Kansas City, “I said ‘do not count on that ever happening again. We’ll never have that kind of talent at that position ever again.’”

The Griffons’ loss is shaping up to be the St. Louis Rams’ gain.

The Rams picked Zuerlein with the first pick in the sixth round of the NFL Draft and almost immediately waived Josh Brown, the team’s kicker the last four years.

“I don’t think Greg’s just NFL good,” Partridge said. “I think Greg is maybe Hawaii-good,” referring that he has what it takes to become a Pro Bowl kicker. “I think he’s that good of a kicker.”

MIAA fans have known that for years (Zuerlein was All-MIAA at UNO even before he started kicking 50-yarders with his morning coffee in St. Joe), but it wasn’t until training camp started that his new teammates and a much larger fan base started to get the idea.

While the Twitter-sphere took notice of Zuerlein almost immediately, it took took until this past weekend until folks really got an idea of what might be in store for the Rams this year.

Going head-to-head with the Rams’ other kicker on the roster, fellow D2 alum Garret Lindholm (Tarleton State), Zuerlein easily matched four relative chip shots from 39, 44, 49 and 54 yards out during Rams Fan Fest, the team’s first practice at Edward Jones Dome.

But Zuerlein took it a step farther, nailing an attempt from 59 and missing only a 64-yarder. It wasn’t short. It was wife-right.

“I had the distance,” Zuerlein said afterward. “I just didn’t connect on it. I’d like to make every kick and when I don’t it’s kind of disappointing. Other than that, it was a good day.”

It’s cool, Greg. We forgive you.

And so do Rams fans, who took to Twitter Saturday after he put on his show in front of about 13,000 fans, well more than he ever played in front of while with Missouri Western.

“Excited to watch Greg Zuerlein this season after watching him kick his 60+ bombs today at #RamsFanFest,” @StephStine11 wrote.

@jrose196 called him “a beast” and @scoyle71 dubbed him “my new favorite ram.”

After seeing what Zuerlein is capable of on Saturday, St. Louis Post-Dispatch columnist Brian Burwell said he didn’t just want to hop on the Greg Zuerlein bandwagon, but “allow me to be the first to apply for the job of the driver.”

But it wasn’t just fans and media taking notice. His teammates sure seem to like what he’s doing at practice, as well.

“It’s been pretty impressive to watch. That last one was, what, 64?” quarterback Sam Bradford, a former Heisman Trophy (it’s sort of like the Harlon Hill) winner and NFL offensive rookie of the year, said. “It’s nice to not have to get it all the way down there to get yourself in position to get some points.”

Running back Stephen Jackson, a three-time Pro-Bowler and 2009’s NFL rushing leader, said Zuerlein’s huge leg makes it easy on the offense.

“Knowing that he has such long range that we can get within striking distance, especially in a two minute situation,” Jackson said Saturday, “we don’t necessarily have to get to the 35-yard line you do traditionally with most kickers.”

Burwell seems to think Zuerlein has what it takes to come an engaging local phenomenon.

I'm thinking t-shirts and made-for-TV specials,” Burwell wrote in a column posted early Sunday. “I'm thinking a special section in the upper reaches of the Dome for all his rabid devotees to gather (Section Z). I'm thinking of a contest to give this dude a nickname worthy of a bionic kicker who regularly crushes footballs through the uprights from beyond 50 yards.”

On Twitter, the contest has already started, with Zuerlein already being dubbed everything from “Greg the Leg” to “Das Boot” to “Jeezy” (G.Z.).

Through it all, Zuerlein has remained humble, saying he’s just trying to do his job.

“I go out there expecting to make every single kick,” he said. “If I don’t make every single kick I am disappointed in myself because I feel like I have the ability to make all those kicks and the coaches wouldn’t put me in there if I didn’t think I could do that.”

The Rams open the 2012 preseason Sunday, Aug. 12 at Indianapolis. The game will be broadcast nationally on the NFL Network. Six days later, St. Louis hosts the Kansas City Chiefs, a game that can be seen in the Kansas City market on KCTV5.

The Rams play three of four preseason games and four out of the first five games either in their home dome or away in a dome, so expect to see plenty of long field goal tries for Zuerlein.

Sound Off

Has there ever been a kicker as automatic as Zuerlein in Division II? Or any level, for that matter?

What D2 players are you looking forward to seeing in the NFL this year?

Is there a story you’d like to see me blog about?

I want to hear your opinion. Leave a comment below, hit me up on Twitter @miAARONd2, at Facebook.com/apheintz or by email at aaron.heintzelman@d2football.com.

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Updated 08-11-2012 at 10:31 PM by Aaron Heintzelman

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Comments

  1. Psycho's Avatar
    As always, great article, Aaron. The guys has an absolutely incredible talent.

    Q1: No. And I doubt we ever see an equal in D1, much less in D2.
    Q2: Dave Tollefson, Xavier Omon, Greg Zurlein, Danny Woodhead, etc. (Any D2'er.)
    Q3: Getting to know NEO, UCO, or that other OK school that just joined.