A Kick
Photo Credit: Eric Francis

A Kick, a Sprint, and an Unlikely Nebraska Hero at the Bottom of a Pile

October 06, 2019

Wan’Dale Robinson, Nebraska’s prized freshman it threw the farm at in recruiting, was crouched over on the sideline just praying for something good. A 32-yard catch at his back shoulder to cap a 123-yard receiving day four plays previous set this all up and made the prayer less of a miracle request.

Darrion Daniels, the graduate transfer-named-captain who has become the heart and soul of a nasty Nebraska defense, just sat on the sidelines and laughed as Northwestern head coach Pat Fitzgerald burned all three of his timeouts back-to-back-to-back. 

Scott Frost, the head coach a lot of people feel is the combination of big-name and Nebraska-know-how to bring this program back, called his kicker a name neither were about to repeat in front of TV cameras. 

All those faces of the program standing on a sideline helpless while a walk-on anonymous to even the most devout of Husker fans in May became the hero.

Lane McCallum, an emergency kicker who’d taken one field goal in the five games leading up to Saturday (and missed it), put toe to leather with three seconds left and sent Nebraska to 4-2. A walk-off 24-yard field goal from straight away gave Frost a 13-10 win over the Wildcats and the former safety an excuse to take off running to the other end of the field where he was promptly mobbed.

“I think being a walk-on isn’t easy, it may seem like that with the praise we get, and I think high schoolers have that sense that it’s going to be pretty easy,” McCallum, who got a podium appearance for his game-winner, started. “Once you step foot in here it’s never easy and you have to earn everything you get. I think a moment like this pays off all the hard work I’ve put in.

“Praise God. I didn’t think that thing was going in when it left my foot, I looked at it and it was really low and I was like ‘oh crud.’ I give that one to the man upstairs for sure.”

Dissecting the offense is probably better served for a later time when everyone can get another look at the tape. It may look better on a screen than it did in person, but then again, it may look worse

Giving some love to the defense is best saved for later as well, even though senior corner Lamar Jackson’s interception with a minute left and Northwestern driving essentially led to the Huskers burying Northwestern this year the same way Northwestern crushed the Huskers last year. 

No, Saturday, with one slightly-lower-than-you-would-hope-for kick, became McCallum’s moment.

“Of course it would happen that way,” Frost said. “It's making me old before my time, some of these things, and not having a healthy scholarship kicker certainly hasn't been ideal for us. We've been searching for a guy that we can use. Lane’s been the best. Glad we picked him the way this turned out.”

Nebraska hasn’t had Barret Pickering, its only scholarship kicker, all season. Frost seems to grow more agitated about the situation with each passing week, Pickering remains without a timetable or even a hint of what’s actually wrong, and Nebraska is on its fourth option at the spot. 

Dylan Jorgensen, a walk-on kicker, got hurt in Week 2 and hasn’t seen the field since. Punter Isaac Armstrong tried to handle both phases of the kicking game and came up too short or too low too often. McCallum has been confined to point-after attempts save for one game-icing 27-yarder against Illinois with 2:03 remaining. 

He hit that one off the left upright. 

With an afternoon kick and the wind howling even down to field level inside Memorial Stadium, Saturday seemed a day that would prove to be a kicker’s enemy. McCallum hit his first try from 35 yards out — a kick that put Nebraska up 10-0 midway through the second quarter — but he missed a 29-yarder in the third. 

“I just kept the faith and thought this is going to come down to me,” he said. “I knew I was going to get another opportunity and whether I miss or make, the glory goes up to Him, and I think that’s how I play and whether I make or miss it, nerves don’t really affect me.”

Eric Francis

Junior quarterback Noah Vedral, whose throw to Robinson and relief of injured starter Adrian Martinez played a pretty serious role in all this, claims Wahoo as his hometown. McCallum being from Norfolk means the two played basketball against each other before Vedral left for Central Florida and McCallum for Air Force. Vedral knew there was a clutch gene in there before they ever shared a football field. 

“I played basketball with him since like 6th, 7th, 8th grade,” Vedral said. “We played against each other in summer leagues. Before I knew him as Lane he was the left-handed shooter from Norfolk that bombed us. I've known that for a while.”

And the rest of the football team found out in practice. 

“Coach Frost does a great job of putting our kickers in that position,” Daniels said. “During practice, we put on a lot more pressure. We are literally in all of our kickers’ faces. … I was laughing because I've seen McCallum do it under way more pressure. We’ve got guys all around him, in his face and behind him in practice, so for him to go out there and be in a better situation, I felt like it was light work for him. I knew he was going to make it. I wasn't pressured or stressed at all about it.”

“Every week it’s something new,” McCallum added. “We always have a bunch of periods where you need a game-winning field goal to win it, so they bring the whole team around me and scream in my ear and say funny stuff, so I’m used to that by now.”

So the noise didn’t affect him. 

Fitzgerald trying to get in his head didn’t either.

Sometimes icing the kicker can have the opposite effect. McCallum said breaking a huddle three times, lining up and then walking back to the sideline each time only helped to calm the nerves. 

Every kicker has had dreams of lining up a game-winner. But this kid is calm and cool. 

He joked about those very dreams turning into nightmares with him suffocating at the bottom of a pile. “Luckily I’m still alive after that one,” he said with a grin. “It was heavy.” That was just Garrett Nelson on top of him. The Scottsbluff product literally tackled McCallum once he stopped in the northwest corner of Tom Osborne Field. 

Just like the game, just like that final kick, and just like his all-out sprint to that corner, this has been a winding road for McCallum. He was hurt the first five-ish weeks of spring ball when he expected to have at least some role in the kicking game. It wasn’t until July when he really started repping with that unit. 

Fast forward three months and he’s having to ask his teammates to stop carrying him off the field so he can say a quick prayer at the middle of it.

“God throws you in every situation he wants you to,” McCallum said. “It’s his plan, not yours, and that’s exactly what has showed in the last couple of months.”

Frost said he felt the Huskers were due a break. This one is going to feel pretty good for the next 24 hours.

“I’m happy for him,” the head coach said. “He made two out of three, and that was enough.”

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