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Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

YouTube sensation Rugland getting his kicks with Lions

Posted: 08/1/2013 1:00 AM | Comments: 0

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ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- Havard Rugland has not missed a kick in game-like conditions during Detroit Lions training camp, including a 58-yard field goal that got everyone's attention that saw or heard it.

"That big boot? He's legit," teammate Nate Burleson said. "Kickalicious is for real. He isn't just an Internet sensation."

Even though the Norwegian made all 11 of his field goals in 11-on-11 situations in a three-day period, he still seems like a longshot to beat out David Akers.

"He's done an impressive job, but I don't want to get out ahead of ourselves," Lions general manager Martin Mayhew said Tuesday. "He's never played in a National Football League game. He hasn't played a pre-season game. I'd like to see him do that before we start making a judgment on him."

Rugland, though, has created quite a buzz with his strong leg and unique story that includes being in an NFL training camp a year after working at a child protective services facility in Norway.

He recently posed for a photo shoot and after each practice, fans clamour for him to sign autographs and pose for pictures.

"It's kind of surreal," he said. "A year ago, I was kicking all alone in Norway. And suddenly, I'm here."

Rugland acknowledged that a YouTube video he posted last September, which had been viewed more than 4.5 million times by Tuesday afternoon, opened the door for his opportunities in the NFL.

Kicking a football to a friend on a boat in a lake, in a moving car or on a skateboard led to tryouts with the New York Jets, Cleveland Browns and Lions, the only team to offer the 28-year-old Rugland a contract.

"I would not have this chance if not for the YouTube video," he said. "But when I was at tryouts, I couldn't just show them a video link to get a job. I had to show I could kick."

Rugland knows he has to produce in the preseason by making field goals and booming kickoffs into -- or out of -- the end zone next week in an exhibition game against the Jets.

"It will be exciting if I get a chance," he said. "I'm doing a lot of things for the first time."

Rugland appears very comfortable kicking field goals, effortlessly making long ones. Kicking off, though, appears to be relatively unfamiliar. After struggling with his footwork while working with former NFL kicker Eddie Murray during a recent Lions practice, he naturally ran up to the football and sent kickoffs soaring -- once lifting one through the uprights from the opposite 35-yard line.

"He has a leg for the league, that's for sure," Murray said. "After he works through some rough edges, because everything is so new, it'll be about finding the right fit."

If Akers is healthy, it's difficult to envision Havard earning a spot on the final roster. The Lions signed the 38-year-old Akers in April to replace Jason Hanson, who turned 43 last month.

San Francisco released Akers after he slumped during the 2012 season, a year after he set NFL records with 44 field goals made and 52 attempted. He made a 63-yard kick last season -- tying a league record -- but connected on his lowest percentage of field goals since 1999.

He underwent double hernia surgery in February 2012, then aggravated the area during the season when he slipped on the field during practice. He had a surgical procedure this off-season.

"It wasn't to fix a hernia," Akers said. "It was core stuff in the pelvis area. They said this it would help relieve stuff, and it has. I feel good."

And, Akers does not feel threatened by Rugland.

"Does he have talent? Absolutely. Does he know what he's getting into yet? Absolutely not," Akers said. "He's really raw, but his leg is powerful enough for the NFL. The biggest thing for him is, getting experience because he doesn't have any."

-- The Associated Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 1, 2013 0

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