Photo By Bruce Crummy
In football, the kicking game always has fans, coaches and players sweating it out. Across all levels of football, field goal kickers can decide a contest with a make or miss. Oftentimes, it is the misses that get magnified more than a clutch make, but that’s just football. This is why mental toughness and confidence are vital to football kickers. Like a golfer on the green, the form can be perfect, but if the mental game is not, bedlam may ensue.
North Dakota State had questions to answer regarding their kicker position heading into 2019. Last season’s kicker Cam Pedersen concluded his career as the school’s leader in total points scored and made PATs. Pedersen is also third in NDSU history in field goals made.
The next man up was presumed to be Jake Reinholz, a sophomore from Fargo. Reinholz was a standout soccer and football player for Fargo Shanley High School, collecting all-conference and all-state marks in both sports. However, when Reinholz went down due to injury in the season opener against Butler, North Dakota State fans were scrambling to find their depth charts. Who was the backup kicker? It is rather rare for a football team to have to turn to their second man, especially so early in the season.
Enter true freshman Griffin Crosa.
“It definitely threw me off a little bit, but I was certainly excited to show what I got,” Crosa said. “I went in there and had a pretty good game so I think it was a good first game for me to kind of get my toes dipped in the water. It was a good first game.”
Stating it was a good first game might be an understatement by the true freshman. He made all seven of his extra-point attempts in a 57-10 rout of Butler at Target Field. Reinholz has been unable to return from injury, making Crosa the game-to-game kicker. He made his first career field goal the following week against North Dakota, a 27-yarder. Crosa also notched five more extra point connections.
Since becoming the full-time kicker, Crosa has yet to miss an extra point attempt, nailing 29 consecutive ahead of Saturday’s game against Missouri State. He is sure to be busy again this week with the Bison being favored by 40 points over the Bears.
“Between me, Ross [Kennelly] and Garret [Wegner], we have a pretty good operation. For the most part, it’s the same every time,” Crosa said. “The ball is the same every time. Consistent results come from that.”
While Matt Entz does not want to leave extra points out on the field, Crosa has also been able to be accurate in his field goal kicking as well. Heading into the game against Northern Iowa last week, the Dublin, Ohio, native was six of six on field goal attempts. His longest, a 46-yard boot, came in a decisive victory over Delaware in week three. While he missed a 43-yard attempt against the Panthers, his field goal percentage still stands at an efficient 88 percent. To date, Crosa leads NDSU in total points scored with 50 on the season.
“My confidence is always high, even going into the first game. It’s just as high now too,” Crosa said.
Matt Entz tends to agree and believes Crosa (who is still just 18) has an infectious personality.
“He’s fun to be around, you never know what he is going to say, he is a little different, but I like him,” Entz said at his weekly press conference on Monday. “He is consistent and he comes from a big soccer background. His dad was a soccer player, grew up playing soccer and his brother is at Cincinnati as their placekicker. It’s in his blood, it’s what he wants to do. He’s done a great job of going in there and our guys really trust him and that is what’s great. They know he is solid, they know he is going to get the ball up and do the things that we need and that is score points.”
Indeed it was a strong soccer foundation that developed Crosa’s love for kicking. His father playing Division I soccer at Syracuse and his brother Sam was the placekicker at Western Illinois and is currently kicking at Cincinnati. While kicking a soccer ball and a football have their differences, soccer helped Crosa learn the basics.
“Playing soccer my entire life helped me learn how to actually kick a ball properly,” he said. “Kicking a soccer ball and football is a lot different, in my opinion at least. The soccer background definitely helped me get started.”
Crosa has also been able to rely on the aforementioned Reinholz for advice. Reinholz is in his third year in the football program and is always keeping Crosa focused on the task at hand. “Jake has been awesome on the sidelines for the games. He is making sure I still have my head in the game and after I missed he just told me to keep my head up,” Crosa said, “It’s been good to have him there for all of my made kicks and the missed one too.”
With Reinholz’s status very much in question moving forward, Crosa is making a concerted effort to protect his body as the Missouri Valley gauntlet picks up. Much of that is based on how many practice reps he takes. “I want to make sure I’m maintaining my reps, but also limiting my reps,” he said. “You have to make sure you’re not kicking too much and getting quality reps with Ross and Garret.”
As for the miss against Northern Iowa? Well, rest assured Crosa’s confidence and focus has not faltered. “It’s all about trusting your technique and trusting the guys in front of you to block,” he said. “If they do that, I just got to do what I got to do and focus on kicking the ball.”
Schools across the country hold their collective breath as field goal kickers approach a ball. Misses and makes either shatter or enhance a coach’s confidence in their placekicking game. For North Dakota State and their coaches, confidence is high and that stems from Griffin Crosa.
Not too bad for a true freshman.