By Joe Torosian
If you grew up a Rams fan you know who he is. If you grew up in Arcadia you gladly claim him as one of your own, but when former All Pro kicker Mike Lansford was growing up his first love was soccer and the era of the specialist had yet to reach prep football.
“Guys didn’t specialize in my position in those days,” says Lansford about how he came to kick for the Apaches.
Now they do. Now kickers make millions in the NFL and nearly every prep school around has one guy designated to be “the guy” to put the ball through the uprights.
Lansford is one of the guys making that happen. The last few years he has been tutoring young kickers while at the same time former Los Angeles Rams teammate Vince Ferragamo has been doing the same with quarterbacks.
“We were on the phone with each other and I said this is something you and I should consider doing together,” said Lansford. A few months later the paper work for the LLC was done and “Ferragamo/Lansford Football Camps” (www.fnlcamps.com) was created.
The first camp will be held on the morning of May 5th at Veterans Stadium in Long Beach. Focusing on skill players; quarterbacks, receivers, running backs, long snappers, punters, and of course kickers.
“If you look at field goal percentages, and it has a lot to do with working with guys like me, personal instructors, in general everybody is better than they were 25 yeas ago,” says Lansford. “Some kickers blast the heck out of the ball, but don’t know what they’re doing.”
Lansford admits he had no clue as to what he was doing when he started. Even with leg enough to consistently drill 75-yarders in practice he says it took him all the way up to his sophomore year in college to become a good kicker.
“I’ve been to other camps and was horrified by the lack of real instruction. These kids are going to get a ton of physical attention…but a ton of mental attention as well. We’re gonna teach them; ‘This is how you practice, this is the day to day regiment, this is what you need to be doing’”.
Lansford credits longtime Arcadia HC Dick Salter with opening the door. After lobbying the coach to be the team’s ‘kicker’, he was eventually given his chance.
“I was a soccer player. I was slow with bad hands, but the ball jumped off my foot extremely well. I paid attention to what I was doing correctly and what I was doing well.”
The results contributed with other moving parts to carry the Apaches to their first playoff win in 14 years. The 1975 team (1-8 the season before) went 7-4 and reached the second round of the CIF playoffs.
“It was fantastic, we really came together my senior year.”
It was also the first time Lansford was introduced to some of the eccentricities of the being just a kicker.
“I had a sciatic nerve condition,” said Lansford. “So the trainer would have to get me up on the table and work on me. The night we were playing at Alhambra (Moor Field), they had a really small room for the visiting teams. So the trainer had to lay me on a table as the defense was meeting at halftime. So I’m right there, on my stomach, with my pants pulled down and my butt exposed as this meeting is going on.”
In the Apaches 18-0 victory over Alhambra, Lansford did all of his kicking left-footed. “Coach Salter figured I was better left footed that night than anyone we else we had right-footed,” he said with a laugh.
After high school Lansford went on a tour to England to play soccer. “I wanted to be a soccer player, but I realized that wasn’t going to happen.”
He spent the 1976 and 1977 seasons at Pasadena City College where the Lancers won a national championship and the Junior College Rose Bowl.
With Frank Jordan kicking at USC and Norm Johnson kicking at UCLA, Lansford made his way up to Washington. In 1980 he was a 12th round draft pick of the New York Giants. They cut him. The San Francisco 49ers cut him. The Oakland Raiders cut him.
What happened between college and pro football was the NFL didn’t use a kicking tee.
Finally in the midst of working out, staying in shape, and getting cut, Lansford developed a blister on his heel and he decided to try kicking without a shoe.
“The first ball off my foot took off,” said Lansford. “All of the sudden I had the power and I was hitting it clean again. By removing the shoe I struck the ball lower. A blister saved my career.”
Does it hurt?
“Sure it does. Some of the balls are like bricks coming out of the box,” he said. “But when the game is on the line, you are thinking about making the kick. If you’re hitting it properly you’re going to kick through the ball.”
In 1982 Lansford beat out Frank Corral, a four year veteran, and would remain the Rams kicker for the next nine seasons. In the process he would make several memorable kicks and go on to become the Los Angeles Rams all time leading scorer.
“To become the Rams kicker was a dream come true. To make the Rams after growing up a fan is one of the highlights of my life.”
The Rams missed the playoffs in 1981 and 1982, but in Week 16 of 1983, in New Orleans, it was Lansford’s 42-yard game winner that gave them the victory over the Saints and propelled them back into the playoffs.
“I had been injured all year,” said Lansford, who didn’t see action until Week 13 after a knee injury in training camp. “I never had kicked under that kind of pressure before in my life, I was literally out on the field shaking. I ended up making that kick and that set the tone. That gave me a confidence and an arrogance.”
Three years later, November 3, 1986, Lansford cashed in from 50-yards on a cold Monday night at Soldier Field in Chicago to lift his team over the defending champs.
“We matched up really well against the Bears. We beat them a lot but they stomped on us in the NFC Championship game the previous season. We were motivated to have a better showing.
“The kick in New Orleans kept me relaxed, I was very confident. Because I could anticipate it happening, sometimes you can almost predict how things are going to play out.”
While Lansford believes the days of the kicker being the outcast are gone, he knew there were times guys struggled with him during workouts as he put on sunscreen and sat on his helmet.
“They sure wanted me at the end of the game,” he said. “And I came through for them.”
The opportunity to hear Lansford pass on more insight about kicking, physically and mentally, in the NFL for nine seasons can be had by clicking on www.fnlcamps.com and experiencing his camp. Contact Lansford for more information at firstname.lastname@example.org
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