Red-haired kicker Sullivan is putting up points for Lobos Print
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Friday, 16 November 2007 11:54
NCAAF Headline News

 ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) -The highlight tape in New Mexico's film room showed what you'd most expect from last weekend's 26-23 win over Colorado State - the game-winning 43-yard field goal by John Sullivan.
Just for fun, coach Rocky Long and his staff added the audio track from the game's TV broadcasting crew as they discussed the kicker.
``He looks like Little Orphan Annie,'' one said.
``No, he looks a little like Carrot Top,'' the other responded, alluding to the curly haired comedian.
It got plenty of chuckles as the Lobos (7-3, 4-2 Mountain West) prepared for Saturday's game at Utah (7-3, 4-2). Sullivan, the redheaded senior who is having a huge season, took it in stride.
``It was great,'' he said. ``The guys aren't going to forget that one for a while.''
The former walk-on has made 23 of 26 field goals despite a career-threatening knee injury in spring practice.
He had to earn the job in fall camp but now leads the nation, averaging 2.56 field goals per game. The NCAA record is 2.63 per game in 1984 by UCLA's John Lee, who made 29 in 11 games.
According to New Mexico's sports information office, no kicker has averaged better than 2.4 field goals per game since the uprights were narrowed to 18 1/2 feet in 1991.
Don't be surprised to see a kicking duel in Salt Lake City. Utah's Louie Sakoda is 18-of-20, including 10 from 40 yards or longer, and hit 15 straight this year, second in the league behind Sullivan's 18 in a row.
One area where they're different - their crops. Sakoda is dark-headed. As for Sullivan, a radio broadcaster said he's the only player in America whose hair matches his jersey.
The good-natured Sullivan said he's OK with the joking. After all, he's getting the last laugh on the field.
Sullivan hit all four of his attempts last weekend, beating the Rams as time expired. Earlier in that game, he broke the school single-season record - his 22nd - with a career-long 46-yarder.
``He has exceeded our expectations,'' Long said. ``I don't know by how much, but quite a lot.''
Sullivan has been Mountain West special teams player of the week four times and is approaching a league record for field goals. He's tied with Colorado State's Jeff Babcock, who made 23 FGs in 2002.
The Lobos are reaping the rewards of Sullivan's accuracy, winning four games by three points or less.
``It's surreal. I never thought it would be this kind of a season for me,'' Sullivan said.
Last spring, there were questions about his future in football after the 159-pound Sullivan misplaced a kickoff and, hoping to atone, got hurt while trying to bring down teammate Marcus Smith.
``I didn't want the coaches to think I was going to let the guy go, so I tried to make the tackle or force him out of bounds,'' Sullivan said. ``He hit me and my knee just flailed right under me. I heard two pops and I knew it was gone.''
The diagnosis: a torn anterior cruciate ligament and ruptured medial collateral ligament in his left knee.
The good news: It wasn't his kicking leg. Sullivan's solution was to kick while wearing a brace on his plant knee.
``If they had repaired it, he probably wouldn't have been ready for fall,'' Long said.
Things were looking up for Sullivan when he earned the job during fall camp. It could have soured when he missed two of his first three field goal tries and finished 2-for-4 in a 10-6 season-opening loss at UTEP.
Sure, those two misses would have won it, but Long wasn't about to make a change.
``Way too early in the season, and he was our best guy. I never even considered it,'' Long said.
Sullivan talks the part of a kicker, saying he was ``a little freaked out'' because he hadn't kicked in a game since high school - five years ago.
``It was too big of a stage. I lost it,'' he said. ``But one game gave me experience and there's no substitute for that. Now, I feel really comfortable out there. I'm not anxious, not nervous. I just go through the motions.''
He bounced back by making 18 straight, another school record.
``I can laugh about that UTEP game now,'' Sullivan said.

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