TAMPA — Being drafted by the Bucs to place kick immediately marks you, like with a pentagram, although this mark looks a lot like Roberto Aguayo’s face.
All Bucs kickers are but the children of Aguayo, or at least grandchildren of Bill Capece. They’re a miss or two away from kaput. Bucs kickers come to Tampa Bay with the toe tags already on them. It’s just a matter of filling in the details. History abounds, and it carries an axe.
“I’m well aware of it,” Matt Gay said with a smile.
Gay knows the drill since Bucs GM Jason Licht took another swing at the pinata and picked Gay in the fifth round, not to be confused with 2016, when Licht chose Aguayo in the second round. The Bucs are still paying for that.
“It’s all about service,” Gay said on the second day of Bucs rookie minicamp.
He was talking about his Mormon faith, not kicking for the Bucs. But he prays before he kicks. Well, it’s about time somebody tried that.
The 6-foot-1, 230-pound Gay, Janikowski-sized, doesn’t look like a kicker. (Hey, kid, ever tried playing linebacker?) Nor is he your typical NFL rookie. He is 25, married (his wife, Milli, is from the U.K. but lived in Tampa for two years) with a baby boy on the way in September. Gay says he has a rough side, which he comes by honestly, having grown up the youngest of eight children in Orem, Utah, near Provo.
“I have five older brothers. I was always getting beat up at home,” Gay said. “It gives you an edge, that you can’t back down.”
There is more to Gay than just his nuclear-powered right foot, which won him the Lou Groza Award in 2017 as college football’s best kicker. It was Gay’s first year of college kicking after leaving soccer and Utah Valley University. Before the Groza award, Gay didn’t know who Groza was.
But he knew that his foot had helping hands all along the way, especially after he made the transition from college soccer to football. One of his chief cheerleaders was his friend Parker Overly, a high school friend from Orem. They played football together at Orem High, where Overly played quarterback and tight end, and lived in the same LDS ward. It was Overly as much as anyone who challenged Gay to pursue football, which Gay turned into an NFL dream and reality.
“(Parker) was one of the guys who kept nagging me when I was playing soccer,” Gay said. “He’d tell me, ‘When are you going to put this aside and start kicking?’ He knew I had a chance. He knew, he just knew.”
So Gay transferred to Utah. He went and won the Groza. And now here he is. He writes the initials “P.O.” in black marker on white tape that he wears on his left arm each time he steps onto the football field. That’s for Patrick.
Gay has made it to an NFL camp. His friend did not. In April 2017, Overly died when the vehicle he was driving was in a head-on collision with a semi-truck.
“He’s just a big part of why I’m doing this,” Gay said. “He’s probably helped me push a few in, for sure.”
Gay has served an LDS mission in Houston and is never really off-mission.
“I try to talk about Jesus Christ and just spread the word,” he said. “Take football out of it. He’s given me redemption. He’s given me life. He’s the sole purpose we’re here.”
Gay’s other purpose, at the moment, is to make kicks and win a job over his chief competition, Bucs kicker Cairo Santos.
“To be here, you have to have confidence that you belong here, that you should be here,” Gay said. “Every day is a gift. Every day is a blessing. But Sunday afternoons, yeah, they’re important. But you lose someone along the way and it puts things in perspective. I have that, I think.”
A wonderful, uplifting story.
Now: Can the dude kick?
Contact Martin Fennelly at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 731-8029. Follow @mjfennelly.