CORAL GABLES, Fla. (AP) -Most people who've spent six years in college are on track to become doctors or lawyers.
Meet Francesco Zampogna. He stayed in school that long to become a kicker.
The 23-year-old won the right to be Miami's first-string kicker on his sixth - yes, sixth - try. He earned three degrees in five years from the school but never actually left, saying he couldn't abandon his hope of playing an important role for the Hurricanes.
This year, with a sixth year of eligibility from the NCAA and after a strong preseason, he's got that chance.
``Hey, hard work pays off,'' Zampogna said. ``If you work at something, you're going to get a shot at it.''
Zampogna had one kickoff in each of the 2004 and 2005 seasons, then made two appearances last year in what figured to be his farewell with the Hurricanes. He used a redshirt season in 2002 because of a wrist injury, meaning the typical five-year clock expired when the 2006 campaign ended.
Coaches didn't expect him back. Neither did other team officials, who didn't include Zampogna in this year's media guide.
But on July 31, the NCAA decided Zampogna should be allowed a second medical redshirt because of a back injury in 2003, giving him one more chance to play football. Training camp started days later, and after beating out some on-scholarship contenders, the job was his.
``I'm excited for him because he deserves it,'' Miami quarterback Kirby Freeman said. ``We had a good kicker in (now-graduated) Jon Peattie last year, so Francesco never could get an opportunity to show what he could do. Coming back for a sixth year, that's a special story in itself.''
Zampogna will lead the kicking game into Norman, Okla. this weekend, when the unranked Hurricanes visit No. 6 Oklahoma in the first meeting between the teams in two decades. His formal debut as the starter came last weekend in Miami's 31-3 win over Marshall, when he made all four extra-point tries and a 34-yard field goal, and narrowly missed a 44-yard attempt.
``You missed that by less than an inch,'' Freeman told him over breakfast Tuesday.
``By less than that,'' Zampogna corrected.
Not bad, considering the last time Zampogna tried a kick of any consequence in a game was 2001 - for Naples High in a state championship game.
Miami coach Randy Shannon entered camp saying the best players would play, regardless of position, regardless of reputation, regardless of scholarship status. True to his word, he tabbed the perennial walk-on Zampogna as the starter - a move that was one of the most surprising on the Hurricanes' depth chart.
``He was our best field goal guy,'' Shannon said. ``He reminds me of Carlos Huerta. Came in, graduated, got a sixth year and came out again. He's done a great job for us.''
Huerta was Miami's starting kicker in 1991 - when the Hurricanes won the national title.
Zampogna can only dream of following that path.
He holds degrees in finance, legal studies and Spanish, all obtained without a dollar in athletic scholarship money. He's involved in a start-up company, BioActive SkinCare, that created a new sunscreen. For most of the past few months, Zampogna would wake up early for 6:30 a.m. workouts, then go to the ``real job,'' then return to Miami's practice fields for some kicking, just in case this opportunity came about.
That work is paying off. So for now, six years of student loans can keep waiting.
``I'm not worried about that,'' Zampogna said. ``This is great. But I don't think the mountaintop is reached until we win a national title.''
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