The game clock glowed at four seconds. The atmosphere within Vaught-Hemingway Stadium was electric, bordering on explosive, as the entire crowd knew precisely what Texas A&M head coach Kevin Sumlin's next move was—bring on the kicker.
Sophomore Josh Lambo took the field, and without missing a beat, he drilled a 33-yard game-winner in Texas A&M's 41-38 road victory over Ole Miss. The decisive field goal marked A&M's first walk-off game-ender since 1992, when Terry Venetoulias aced a 21-yarder in a win over Texas Tech.
"Surprisingly enough, I really wasn't that nervous," Lambo said. "It feels so great, not to hit the game-winning field goal, but to do something to help my teammates win and reward their effort. They're the guys who are out there getting beat up, getting knocked down, tackling people and making big plays. Just the fact that I got to do anything to help that out was the best part about it."
Walking onto the field against Ole Miss, though, Lambo was prepared to fulfill more than one of his dreams. After the football passed through the uprights, the former Major League Soccer athlete performed one of his former sport's most famous celebrations—the slide.
"I said, 'I ever get to hit a game-winning field goal, I'm doing the slide,'" Lambo joked following the game. "I've had that planned out since day one. That was the coolest thing ever."
That's right, A&M's kicker used to play soccer, and at a professional level as well. You hear about it at the high school level. You see it in the movies. But in this situation, it's for real.
All this article is missing now is a scene of Lambo launching a soccer ball 70 yards downfield on some obscure practice field followed by Sumlin approaching the young man, wrapping his arm around his shoulder and asking if he's ever tried football. This would all be part of a montage, of course, as the Aggies collected their key players for the 2013 season. Coming soon to theaters near you.
In 2008, Lambo was drafted eighth overall by FC Dallas, hoping to earn responsibilities as goalkeeper for the Texas club. After the release of his contract in 2011, though, Lambo turned his attention to football, hoping to use his soccer skills to provide a full ride to a tier-one university.
Lambo started just kicking a football, honing his craft through personal experience with soccer before meeting with former NFL kicker Taylor Mehlhaff for tips and advice.
"The first time I started really kicking a football was towards the end of my professional career as I was no expecting my contract to be renewed," Lambo said. "I just went to a store, bought a football and started kicking on my own. Once I was essentially out of a job and didn't get any contracts I wanted to take, I contacted my brother's friend, a former kicker at the University of Wisconsin, Taylor Mehlhaff, who had played in the NFL for a couple of years. I drove over to New Orleans where he was and two sessions with him, made a couple slight tweaks to my swing and it just kind of clicked."
The position came easily to Lambo, as the similarity between goal kicks and field goals was just a matter of football placement due to different centers of gravity.
"Being a goalkeeper, I was taking goal kicks every day, so I'm used to hitting 60-, 70-yard balls," Lambo said. "I've been kicking a ball my whole life, so it's really not too different. It was just raising my point of contact up on a football because a soccer ball sits lower to the ground, and it (comes down to) if you can kick a ball, then you can kick a ball. That's about it."
At Texas A&M, Lambo began the season under starting kicker Taylor Bertolet, formerly the nation's top kicking recruit. After inconsistency with extra points befell Bertolet during A&M's 42-13 win over Southern Methodist, Lambo was allowed his opportunity.
Just three weeks later, Sumlin had no reservations with the sophomore attempting the game-winner in the closing seconds against Ole Miss, hostile crowd or not. According to the head coach, Lambo had built up a reserve of confidence over the course of his three weeks as a starter, and it was that key factor that made the decision a no-brainer.
"It's not about the team's confidence, it's about (Lambo's) confidence," Sumlin said. "He's demonstrated over the last couple weeks that he's getting more confident. He missed one early, came back and made one, and there was no doubt. We didn't hesitate with what our plan was."
From a teammate perspective, Lambo has received nothing but support since taking over the full-time obligations of starting kicker. Prior to the kick, deep snapper and star left tackle Jake Matthews offered Lambo some inspiring words of confidence. Directly following the win, quarterback Johnny Manziel—the team's king of clutch—lauded Lambo's resolve with the game on the line.
"Right there at the end, we had a lot of confidence in Lambo," senior wide receiver Travis Labhart said. "We knew he could make the field goal."
According to Lambo, even former starter and current kickoff specialist Bertolet provided encouragement.
"We're teammates, we're always going to root each other on," Lambo said. "I mean, if he was out there kicking the game-winner, I'd be excited for him. I'm sure he was excited for me. We know our role on the team. Ultimately, we're playing to get to a championship game, and everyone is going to support whoever is on the field to get to that goal."
*Unless otherwise noted, all quotes obtained firsthand
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