|Ohio State kicker dreamed of playing rugby before thousands of fans|
|Written by Admin|
|Thursday, 06 September 2007 08:34|
Only he figured he'd be in Paris participating in this week's Rugby World Cup. Instead, he'll be the placekicker for No. 12 Ohio State on Saturday against Akron in front of 105,000 screaming fans at the Horseshoe.
Pretorius, born and raised in South Africa, has made it to the spotlight despite switching sports, overcoming incompetent or unscrupulous agents and team officials and getting turned down by many of the top college football programs in the country.
``It's a crazy story,'' he said.
As a 28-year-old college junior, he's become an overnight success.
``He's older than some of the coaches, I think,'' Ohio State wide receiver Brian Robiskie said, laughing.
The son of a dentist, Pretorius was all about sports growing up in Durban.
``All of my friends would go out at night and chase girls around, I would spend just hours and hours kicking a rugby ball and trying to perfect that,'' he said. ``My friends used to think I was crazy and it paid off in a roundabout way.''
Hoping to become a professional rugby player, he moved to England when he was about 18.
``To tell you the truth, I used to be a big mummy's boy,'' he said in his Afrikaans-accented English. ``I hated England because in South Africa I was pretty spoiled because we had a beautiful home and servants. I missed that.''
He was playing for a juniors team affiliated with Bath Rugby Club, a top team in Europe, and was hopeful of moving up. A coach with another team sent a letter to Pretorius, trying to lure the player to his squad. The problem was, the coach didn't have the authority to bring in a new player. When Pretorius showed up to play for the new team, he didn't actually have a spot. And he couldn't go back to his old team.
He eventually latched on with a smaller rugby club and worked his way back up the professional ladder. He had a manager but ``he didn't prove to be such a great agent,'' Pretorius said. His career stalled again.
``I learned from a young age that I could never trust many people,'' he said.
Seeing the movies ``Rudy'' and ``Jerry Maguire'' while he was in high school in South Africa got Pretorius interested in American football.
While in Denver on a vacation, he spoke with former NFL kicker Gary Anderson, who is also a native of Durban and a family friend. Anderson urged Pretorius to make a video of his kicking abilities.
``For me the toughest thing was kicking with shoulder pads and a helmet on,'' he said. ``I had never done it and hardly knew anyone who had. And then just being able to trust someone holding a ball for you.''
Pretorius had friends film him making field goals from 40 to 60 yards, and kicking off through the uprights from 75 yards away.
Pretorius sent the tape to about 20 schools, including Notre Dame, Florida and Florida State, with a letter asking for a tryout. They all turned him down.
Some family friends in Columbus asked him to visit and suggested he contact Ohio State. He toured the campus and met with the football staff, who offered him a chance to join the team and possibly earn a scholarship. Pretorius took it.
At an age when most are settled into a career, Pretorius was beginning college and learning about football.
``I didn't even know how to put on my uniform,'' he said. ``(Former fullback) Stan White's locker was two away from me and he said, 'You need some help there, buddy?' I was like, 'Yeah. Please.' I didn't have a clue. My first game I ran out for was Marshall here in Ohio Stadium. I was relieved I didn't have to kick in that game because I probably wouldn't know when to run on.''
He played sparingly his first two years, though he earned a full scholarship before last season and kicked his first field goal, a 52-yarder against Cincinnati, in 2006.
Now he's the starter. Last week, with his parents in attendance, he made five PATs and a 24-yard field goal in a 38-6 win over Youngstown State.
``We thought he did a good job - five for five on extra points, one for one field goal - and we thought his kickoffs were solid,'' Buckeyes coach Jim Tressel said. ``It was kind of a swirling wind, a wind where you hit it up there and it kind of stopped dead. He powered it through a couple times very, very well.''
Pretorius, who has been nicknamed Zulu by his teammates, can only shake his head at the path he's taken. The cheers he received last weekend are still ringing in his ears.
``It meant the world to me,'' he said.