Nick Folk took a breath and eyed the uprights that swayed in the slight Buffalo breeze a mere 53 yards away. He had already made this kick, nailing it just moments before on a play nullified by a last second timeout. He was certain he could make it again and this time he wouldn’t have to put as much leg on it. Just kick it cleanly, don’t force it and the ball will fly straight. As he knew it would be, the kick was true; a game winning field goal in the waning seconds of a game the Dallas Cowboys had no right to win. Dallas was given the chance to win the game thanks to Folk’s perfect onside kick with 20 seconds left in the game. It was a classic night that vaulted Folk to hero status, yet neither he nor his family was that surprised at his success.
Nick grew up the oldest sibling in a family of athletes that excelled in soccer. His parents created an atmosphere in their Hollywood home that promoted the growth and development of the kids’ skills. He responded by becoming a mentor to his brothers and his teammates and a great example of how working hard and never making excuses can get you anywhere you want to go. He was a standout player in high school in both football and soccer and while he had the chance to go to college on soccer scholarships, Nick chose to attend the University of Arizona to play football. His standing as a team leader in the locker room set him apart from other kickers in the country and this left an impression on his college coach.
"He's the kind of guy that you dream about coaching because of his work ethic and his attitude," said Joe Robinson, the Wildcats special teams coordinator who nicknamed Folk "Slick Nick" because of his shaved head. "It's really hard for kickers to establish themselves as team leaders. I've never seen anyone who so influences others." (ESPN.com)
The University of Arizona’s special teams was in disarray when Nick arrived. After the incumbent starter was benched midway through the season, he saw his first action in college as a redshirt freshman. Unfortunately, he missed all three of his field goal attempts that year. Over the next few years though, Folk established himself as a multi-talented special teams ace playing the role of full time punter, place kicker and kickoff specialist. He would go on to have a 44.4 yard average as a punter in college and make 30 of 47 career field goals. His junior year Nick was named the Pac-10 special teams player of the week for his play OSU, belting 8 punts for 336 yards and nailing both field goal attempts. Coming on strong late in his career, Nick was named to the All Pac-10 team as a senior.
Kickers rarely get drafted but Nick garnered significant attention at the NFL combine in 2007 along with top kicking prospect Mason Crosby. His above-average leg strength and straight kicks impressed scouts and he started to distance himself from Crosby. Dallas Cowboys coach Wade Phillips was impressed not just by his leg strength, but his composure as well. Nick’s ability to stay calm under duress and his desire to be play in pressure filled situations made him an ideal choice for a team looking for tong term stability at kicker.
The Cowboys drafted Folk in the sixth round of the NFL draft with the hope that he would push returning starter Martin Gramatica for a spot on the opening day roster. Nick’s work ethic and desire to succeed paid off as he not only made the roster but was named the full time starter as well. His steadiness and leg strength was fully evident from the start when early in his rookie season he faced the tough challenge of kicking from the hard infield dirt in Miami, nailing all three attempts. He would miss only three field goals all year with one miss the result of a blocked kick against Chicago. Originally touted as kickoff specialist thanks to his strong leg, Nick’s kickoffs in 2007 mostly came up well short of the endzone giving up field position to opposing teams. While it is an area of concern, his short kicks could be due to the Cowboys’ coaches compensating for a poor coverage unit; many of Nick’s short kicks were aimed at one sideline or another. Kicking the ball out of the end zone would help fix the issue of coverage problems and expect for him to come out strong and improve on his rookie campaign.
Of all the field goals Nick made his rookie year, it was his October performance in Buffalo that made him a name-stay in Dallas Cowboys lore. The game winning kick(s) on national television that night helped him become the first Cowboys rookie to be named to the Pro Bowl since 1990. Against Washington in week 17 he set the Dallas Cowboys single-season record for points by a place kicker. Nick Folk has provided the Dallas Cowboys with a kicker who not only longs for the chance to kick a game winning field goal but relishes in the pressure such situations bring. Let’s hope that he only has to try the kick once next time.