Dentist in waiting: Vikings kicker has fall-back Print
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Tuesday, 05 August 2008 22:19
NFL Headline News

 MANKATO, Minn. (AP) -When Steven Hauschka enrolled at Middlebury College, a small liberal arts school nestled in the hills of Vermont, he fully expected to follow in his father's footsteps.
Now he is doing just that, only Hauschka isn't pulling teeth like he originally planned. He's kicking footballs for the Minnesota Vikings.
Before Peter Hauschka became a dentist, he was invited to Dallas Cowboys training camp in the summer of 1967 to try out for the open kicking position.
More than 40 years later, his son has put his acceptance to dental school on hold after signing a rookie free-agent contract with the Vikings.
It's been a remarkably quick ascent up the kicking ranks for Steven Hauschka, who was a soccer player all his life before some college buddies convinced him to tryout for the football team as a sophomore at Division III Middlebury.
``It wasn't the last thing on my mind,'' Hauschka said of football. ``At Middlebury, I focused on academics. I thought I was going to be in med school or something like that.''
Hauschka majored in neuroscience and was accepted to several dental schools, but deferred those to enroll as a graduate student at North Carolina State to give this football thing one serious crack.
Hauschka made 16 of 18 field goals, including all eight tries from 40 yards or longer, and all 25 extra points in his one season for the Wolfpack.
``Really until the last couple games, I didn't think it was going to be possible,'' he said. ``I was always confident in my abilities. But when I looked at the other kickers and saw that I was one of the better ones, then I realized I have a good chance at this in the NFL.''
Playing in front of more than 60,000 fans on Saturdays in Raleigh, N.C., wasn't the only adjustment for Hauschka. He also went from the rigorous course work of neuroscience at a demanding academic school to enrolling in Park/Recreation and Tourism Management at N.C. State.
``I found that interesting,'' Vikings long snapper Cullen Loeffler said with a grin. ``Little bit of a change there.''
Hauschka offered no apologies.
``I wasn't much into the studying,'' he said. ``More working on football there.''
That focus has got him this far. Just where he goes from here is still up in the air.
With 12-year veteran Ryan Longwell already on the team, the Vikings essentially signed Hauschka as a camp leg to save Longwell some work. That means that he will get plenty of work in the preseason and get a good chance to showcase his skills for other teams.
``I'm confident in what I do,'' he said. ``Exposure's the No. 1 thing here.''
While he is wearing purple, Hauschka is taking advantage of his time with Longwell, the NFL's fourth-leading scorer since 1997.
Longwell and special teams coordinator Paul Ferraro have helped Hauschka change his kicking style, with the biggest adjustment involving shortening his delivery and reducing the amount of time it takes him to get a field-goal attempt off.
``A lot of guys I've suggested stuff to, they don't listen and they don't make it,'' Longwell said. ``So that's why I say Steve has a legit chance, because he is now kicking the ball in a style and a form that can make it in this league.''
Ferraro said it didn't take long for Hauschka to get the hang of it.
``He's done a good job adjusting to it and his times are really good now,'' Ferraro said.
The Vikings open the preseason on Friday night against Seattle, and just how the kicking duties are going to be split in the four games has yet to be determined.
Vikings coach Brad Childress said Hauschka ``has an NFL leg,'' and Loeffler agrees.
``He's been tweaking a few things on his field goals, but his kickoffs have been incredible,'' Loeffler said. ``That's something that could definitely get a guy in the league and keep him there for a long time. A guy like him could come in and really do some damage because he can hang it up there for a long time.''
Hauschka could one day join his father in the dentistry. But he's enjoying himself too much right now to think about that.
``It's been a fun ride to get this far,'' he said. ``Hopefully I'll keep going.''

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