Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Norwegian a trick-kick artist

Internet sensation trying to crack NFL Lions roster

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ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- The scouting report on Havard Rugland is certainly an odd one.

"He's good at kicking the ball into cars that are driving down the road ... boats and stuff like that," Detroit Lions coach Jim Schwartz said. "But I don't think you get any more points for doing that. We've got to kick it between the goalposts."

Rugland's story is unlike that of any other player at rookie minicamp. The Norwegian kicker became an Internet sensation after producing video footage of all sorts of quirky trick shots.

Rugland back-heels the ball nonchalantly into a trash can and kicks it to somebody on a boat on a lake. In one goofy stunt, he lines up for what looks like a chip-shot field goal -- only he's not trying to split the uprights. Instead, his kick sails gently through a basketball hoop.

"I kept hitting the rim, and I wanted it to go straight in," Rugland said. "That's a lot of work."

Now Rugland faces the more mundane challenge of mastering the fundamentals as an NFL kicker. The Lions signed him last month and are giving him a chance to make the team.

"I'm really serious about it. I'm doing my best to get better every day," he said. "I think there's a lot of people wanting a spot on an NFL team, so you have to perform good. They wouldn't sign me if they didn't see something, like talent or potential."

Rugland's first name is pronounced HO-var, although he was given the nickname "Kickalicious" by a cousin. A longtime soccer player, he says he knows the basics of American football, but not all the rules.

The Lions need a kicker after Jason Hanson's retirement. They signed Rugland and David Akers a couple of days apart in April, and now they want to see how quickly the 28-year-old Rugland can adjust to an NFL kicker's routine. Whether he's working on the timing of the snap and hold or just getting used to wearing a helmet, this is still a fairly new experience for him.

Rugland had a tryout with the New York Jets in December, and since then he's worked with former NFL kicker Michael Husted. When the Lions brought him in for a workout, he impressed them enough that they were willing to sign him.

As for Rugland's trickery on video, Schwartz is skeptical. But he realizes Rugland has talent.

"You just wonder, how many times did he have to kick it to the trash can before he made it? No matter how much everybody thinks -- those basketball shots, they might sit there for three days trying to make one," Schwartz said. "You could tell on that video he had leg strength and he could control the football, and those were important things. After he worked out here, we had a feel for his leg strength on kickoffs and his accuracy, and we liked what we saw, and we thought we could work with him."

Rugland says the basketball hoop shot may have taken 40 tries to get right. It remains to be seen whether his skills will translate to an NFL career. He said this week was the first time he'd worn a football helmet.

"From soccer, your head pretty often follows the football," he said. "I'm trying to keep my head down, so it almost helps me out a little bit."

What's his longest field goal? He was a bit hesitant to answer that question.

"It doesn't feel like it counts when you don't have the snap and hold and don't have the NFL football," Rugland said. "The longest I've done here is 58 or 59."

If he can make kicks from that distance in games, he could be an asset for the Lions -- and his unusual journey has earned him plenty of attention worldwide. Hall of Fame kicker Jan Stenerud is from Norway, and now Rugland is trying to follow his footsteps to the NFL in unlikely fashion.

"I've got a lot of support from back home," Rugland said. "They don't know very much about American football, but it's actually growing, the interest, so it's really positive."

-- The Associated Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 12, 2013 B13

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