Stanford kicker embracing failure, success
STANFORD, Calif. (AP)
Jordan Williamson wears a Fiesta Bowl cap most places he goes now to remind himself and show the world just how far he has come since the worst moment of his life.
Not that anybody needs a reminder anymore.
The Stanford kicker, who kept a low profile for months after he missed a field goal at the end of regulation and overtime in that 41-38 loss to Oklahoma State in January, will no longer be remember on this quant Silicon Valley campus for just his biggest failure. Williamson's winning 37-yard field goal in overtime at top-ranked Oregon last Saturday night highlighted his road to redemption, and he's using both experiences to help others overcome similar setbacks.
''The Fiesta Bowl is something that I'll never forget,'' Williamson said. ''It's not something that I'm trying to hide. Obviously, it happened, and people know it happened. It's just something I use to motivate me to get better.''
Williamson said he received encouragement from people ''pretty high up'' - even from those outside of football - since that disaster in the desert.
The encouragement prompted him to contact kickers also going through trying times. Earlier this season, for instance, he reached out to Pittsburgh's Kevin Harper, who missed a potential game-ending, 33-yard field goal in the second overtime against Notre Dame before the Panthers lost 27-23 in triple overtime. Harper made the four other field goals he attempted.
''I told him, `Hey, look. You had a great game. Don't worry. It's not on you,''' Williamson said. ''He was handling it very well. He knew that he was fine and he had a great game. So it wasn't bad. But I am starting to try to reach out more.''
Williamson declined to name others he has contacted or those who have gotten in touch with him. Just the fact that he can openly discuss the Fiesta Bowl gives a glimpse of how much has changed.
Early in that game against Oklahoma State, Williamson missed from 41 yards and made from 30 yards. Stanford coach David Shaw chose to run out the clock on Andrew Luck's finale drive and set the stage for Williamson's 35-yard attempt with the game tied on the final play of regulation. He missed. And missed again - also left - from 43 yards in overtime.
After the game, Williamson wept in the corner of the locker room. Teammates shielded him from reporters, patted him on the head, tried to console him and offer words of encouragement.
''I'd say before the Fiesta Bowl I really had no idea what it was like to miss a do-or-die kick,'' Williamson said. ''I didn't really understand the aftermath of it all until the situation happened.''
He received nasty Facebook messages for months, and strangers would even walk up to him and tease, ''Laces Out!'' The reference is from the movie ''Ace Ventura: Pet Detective'' and a fictional missed field goal by a Miami Dolphins kicker in the Super Bowl.
Williamson, a psychology major, returned home to Austin, Texas, trying to get his mind off the misses during the winter break. His mother, Laura Burton, even sent a letter to the parents of Stanford players to ''express my utter sorrow for how things played out'' and thanking them for ''never in my life have I seen the kindness, maturity, and love that has been displayed by this Stanford family'' for helping her son.
''For him to go through some growing pains early, I think, was good for him,'' punter and holder Daniel Zychlinski said. ''Now he has a foundation to build upon. Going through that hardened him mentally to withstand any failure in the future. He knows what it feels like and he knows how it is to go through it.''
While Williamson said he wasn't nervous before his final kick at Oregon, those on Stanford's sideline were for him.
Williamson had missed a 43-yarder earlier in the game, saying he picked up his head too soon, which he often cites as reasons for most misses. Shaw stuck with Williamson anyway, as he always has, even though the redshirt sophomore kicker is now 13 for 22 on field goals this season.
Knowing what Williamson had gone through and what another mistake could do for his psyche, Shaw sent the kicker out in amped-up Autzen Stadium and said a prayer.
''The prayer wasn't for the team,'' Shaw said. ''The prayer was just for him, that he would be able to relax and do the job to the best of his ability.''
Williamson kicked the ball through the uprights. He sprinted around the field in a mad dash, embraced Shaw at midfield and ran to find his father in the stands for an unforgettable embrace.
''I don't think we could even measure how important that was,'' Shaw said.
Players shouted in unison, and the locker room walls rattled. The echo filtered to those waiting outside and all around the stadium's tunnel: ''JOR-DAN! JOR-DAN! JOR-DAN!''
''It was pretty great, I'm not going to lie,'' Williamson said. ''I started to tear up a little bit.''
Antonio Gonzalez can be reached at: www.twitter.com/agonzalezAP