ST. LOUIS — Missouri Western was a must stop for NFL special-teams coaches this spring. Everyone wanted a close look at the kicker who made 21 field goals in a row, nine of them from 50 yards or beyond.
The Minnesota Vikings put Greg Zuerlein high on their shopping list. The Houston Texans made the trip to St. Joseph, Mo., too. St. Louis Rams special-teams coach John Fassel showed up twice.
It is no surprise to his college coaches that Zuerlein has made the jump from NCAA Division II to the pros with panache.
Jay White, the kicking coach at Missouri Western, moonlights on the sidelines at Kansas City Chiefs home games. He predicted the kid who hit an occasional 70-yarder in warmups and has enough power to make a 50-yarder with a one-step approach would fit right in.
“Last year, I would be on the field at Arrowhead Stadium around the kickers and say ‘My guy yesterday did a better job,’” White said in a telephone interview with the Associated Press. “When Greg hits the ball, you can hear it. Feel it, too.”
Head coach Jerry Partridge thought last year the only kicker anywhere that was better was the Oakland Raiders’ Sebastian Janikowski.
“Look now,” Partridge. “Who’s better?”
Zuerlein broke the Rams’ franchise record with a 58-yarder in the first quarter Sunday against the Seattle Seahawks, then topped it with a 60-yarder in the second half. He is perfect on 12 field-goal attempts for St. Louis (2-2), and he is the first player in NFL history to make a 60-yard field goal and a kick of 50 yards or more in the same game.
After beating the Seahawks without an offensive touchdown but with four field goals from Zuerlein plus a fake field goal for a touchdown pass, running back Steven Jackson proclaimed Zuerlein the Rams’ MVP.
Quarterback Sam Bradford said this is the first time he has been on a team where the kicker is the most popular player. He was shocked when the Rams called for the 60-yarder, just three yards shy of the NFL record.
“I was like ‘What?’” Bradford said. “But sure enough, he’s been awesome. You can’t ask for much more in a kicker, and I’m sure he’s going to continue to play great for us.”
Zuerlein is plenty confident lining up kicks and has no concerns about playing in prime time on Thursday night against the unbeaten Arizona Cardinals.
“Honestly, it’s going to feel the same as any other game,” he said. “It doesn’t matter how many people are watching, you just go out there play the game.”
Zuerlein has not forgotten his roots. He wore a bright yellow Missouri Western T-shirt after Sunday’s game.
The 24-year-old Zuerlein opted for hometown Nebraska-Omaha out of high school when the best offer he could get from Division I schools was the opportunity to walk on. He finished his college career at Missouri Western after Nebraska-Omaha dropped football and the NCAA denied him a sixth year of eligibility despite a year lost to injury.
Missouri Western was not as far-fetched of an option as it might seem. The school is the Chiefs’ training-camp home and has top-notch facilities, including what coaches tout as one of the best indoor facilities in the country, bar none.
“I figured if I wanted to try and pursue this dream and make it into the NFL, I’m going to want to be kicking in the offseason,” Zuerlein said. “I would be able to kick in the winter when there’s snow on the ground.”
The Griffins are a Division II power, making the postseason with a 9-2 record last season, and they are 5-0 and ranked fourth in the country this season. They have another pro prospect this year in defensive end David Bass.
Plus, Zuerlein knew White from games between Nebraska-Omaha and Missouri Western, and the school is not that far from home.
Partridge said Zuerlein was working at a Buffalo Wild Wings when he called offering a scholarship.
“He wasn’t like ridiculous at Nebraska-Omaha, like he is right now,” Partridge said. “He did a great job for us.”
The first 50-yarder was at Missouri Southern, a 58-yarder with distance to spare. He ended up nine for nine from 50 and beyond.
“Every one of his kicks was like that,” Partridge said. “There was never a crossbar-scraper. It was amazing.”
The only question was which team would get him.
“I think the Vikings were real interested,” Partridge said. “The Texans liked him a lot. Oh, they loved him.”
Fassel loved him, too. St. Louis finally pounced in the sixth round, clearing the way for Zuerlein by releasing veteran kicker Josh Brown.
“His leg speed is incredible,” Fassel said. “One of the best things about him is he gets the ball up fast. I mean, that thing gets up fast and the distance is there.
“He’s got a chance to be pretty good.”
Arizona Cardinals at St. Louis Rams
• When: Thursday, 5:20 p.m.
• TV: NFL Network