Kicker completes zero to hero journey
Sophomore Gibbons puts struggles behind, delivers one sweet game-winning boot
NEW ORLEANS -- A season ago, if this situation unfolded -- Michigan needing a field goal to win a game -- everyone inside the stadium would have shuddered. Even some of Brendan Gibbons' teammates might have had concerns.
This was a kicker who couldn't kick, a guy who was so maligned last season he lost his job to walk-on Seth Broekhuizen.
"It's a complete zero-to-hero moment for him," left tackle Taylor Lewan said. "He worked so hard in the offseason. We knew he was going to make that kick. I knew he was going to make that kick, 100 percent.
"It was the epitome of just working hard, and that's what he did in the offseason."
There's a reason for it. Of all the redemption stories and reclamation projects on the Michigan football team this season, Gibbons might have been the biggest one.
His teammates would talk often about how much better he was, how much confidence they had in him.
They saw it, too -- both when he practiced and even when they spent time with him away from football. "He's been a little bit more focused," said his roommate, Fitzgerald Toussaint. "He's practiced a little bit more. He's been there on off days, doing what he has to do, kicking it a little bit, and it's a great accomplishment.
"He's accomplishing a lot of things."
Among them is this. On the biggest stage of his career, he made his biggest play. His 37-yard field goal sent Michigan's players running onto the field and mobbing the guy who was once considered a liability when it came to on-field play.
And it came on a day that Michigan's special teams came up huge. J.B. Fitzgerald forced a fumble on a kickoff that Delonte Hollowell recovered. And then there was the fake field goal in the second quarter -- one that was called while the team was on the field after Michigan coach Brady Hoke had said he wanted to actually kick the ball -- that preserved a drive and eventually gave Michigan a 10-6 halftime lead.
"We get lined up and I hear (Hoke) call fake with it," holder Drew Dileo said. "So I'm screaming it to my line and half the people heard me, half the people didn't."
Then he watched it bounce off a Virginia Tech defender and into the waiting arms of long-snapper Jareth Glanda for a completed pass, a first down and an almost unreal conversion.
It set up Gibbons' first field goal.
So what did Gibbons' think about during the biggest kick of his life? Not what one might think.
He was thinking about being anywhere but the Sugar Bowl and about the furthest thing from kicking a ball.
"Brunette girls," Gibbons said. "Every time we were struggling in kicking, coach tells me to think about girls on a beach or brunette girls.
"So that's what we did. Made the kick."
From now on, Gibbons will probably have carte blanche during field goals to think of whatever he wants.
Michael Rothstein covers University of Michigan sports for WolverineNation. He can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @mikerothstein.