Lambo’s leap to football is paying dividends for Texas A&M

Posted Wednesday, Oct. 16, 2013  comments  Print Reprints

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Strange but true: Texas A&M’s newest football hero did not know what to do with the gear he was issued for his first practice as a walk-on member of the team.

“I had never put football pads on until I got here,” kicker Josh Lambo said. “The equipment guys asked, ‘Do you want this? Do you want that?’ And I said, ‘Man, I have no idea. You tell me.’”

As of Tuesday, Lambo is fully cognizant of the attention that comes with kicking a game-winning field goal for the Aggies. He’s been stopped more frequently during cross-campus commutes since Saturday’s 33-yarder as time expired lifted No. 7 A&M past Ole Miss 41-38 in Oxford, Miss. His text message total has spiked.

Most important, his football coach is starting to feel confident Lambo can be a long-term solution to a longstanding problem as the Aggies (5-1, 2-1 SEC) prepare for Saturday’s game against No. 24 Auburn (5-1, 2-1) at Kyle Field.

“We’ve had some issues with place-kicking and made some tough decisions,” said A&M coach Kevin Sumlin, who gave Lambo his shot after scholarship kicker Taylor Bertolet missed consecutive extra-point attempts in a 42-13 victory over SMU on Sept. 21. “Here is a guy, a year ago, who nobody knew his name. He came in and helped us as a walk-on. He kept fighting and worked hard to play. And the best players are going to play. It was a pressure situation for him. But in this business, what pays off are results.”

For A&M, Lambo’s kick resulted in a comeback victory that allowed the Aggies to carry momentum and SEC title hopes into Saturday’s start of a four-game homestand in College Station. If A&M can run the table against Auburn, Vanderbilt, UTEP and Mississippi State, the Aggies will carry a 9-1 record into a Nov. 23 game at No. 6 LSU (6-1, 3-1) that should have major implications in the SEC and BCS championship races.

Understandably, the Aggies do not want to look past Auburn, a resurgent team with a high-octane spread offense and a defense that is allowing only 18.8 points per game. But there is no denying A&M could arrive in Baton Rouge, La., as a top-five team in the BCS standings if the Aggies maximize a user-friendly schedule for the next four weeks.

To do that, A&M must win close games. Those often are decided by the kicker, an area where A&M struggled last season. Bertolet missed seven PATs and nine field-goal attempts in 2012, but A&M did not pay dearly for that shortcoming while posting an 11-2 record.

This year, the Aggies probably will pay a premium for missed scoring opportunities because of a leaky, inexperienced defense. If there is one premise A&M fans can take to the bank after six games, it is this:

With this prolific offense, A&M will have a chance to win every game in the fourth quarter this season. And with this porous defense, so will every quality opponent the Aggies face.

News flash: The SEC is loaded with quality opponents, so fans should brace for more white-knuckle finishes like the one that unfolded at Ole Miss. That is where Lambo, 22, comes in.

A soccer prodigy who left his Wisconsin home at 14 to attend a sports academy in Florida, Lambo joined FC Dallas as the eighth overall pick in Major League Soccer’s 2008 SuperDraft. Four years later, the team released its backup goalkeeper, ending Lambo’s dream of a professional soccer career; but not his desire to be a professional athlete.

While living in Frisco and taking online classes offered by Collin County Community College, Lambo was struck by this thought as it related to college football and a possible NFL career: “Why not try kicking? What’s the worst they can do? Say ‘no’?”

Lambo, a junior who has been married for three years, sought instruction from a private kicking tutor. They huddled in May 2012 to shoot a YouTube video. During what Lambo described as “a very windy day in Wisconsin,” he split the uprights from 70 yards on a field-goal attempt while kicking downwind.

Among the 30-40 schools that received the video, along with Lambo’s request for a tryout, A&M offered the most logical fit for the wannabe kicker and his wife, Amy, a Dallas Baptist graduate. Once Lambo got past the initial confusion with the football pads at the start of 2012 fall camp, he’s blossomed into a mature, reliable presence in clutch situations.

During Tuesday’s news conference in College Station, Sumlin said Lambo “has demonstrated over the last couple of weeks that he’s getting more confident.” He said special teams coaches consider Lambo within his comfort zone on any kick up to 50 yards.

Asked about his mindset before the game-winner against Ole Miss, Lambo said: “Surprisingly enough, I really wasn’t that nervous. I was in my own world, kicking it in the net, trying to make clean contact [during the game-winning drive]. It feels so great … to do something to help my teammates and reward their effort.”

Based on last week’s success, Lambo can expect more opportunities in the future. And thanks to the guys in the equipment room who taught him where to place his pads, he’ll even look like a football player while doing it.

Jimmy Burch, 817-390-7760 Twitter: @Jimmy_Burch

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