Gophers kicker gets spotlight in victory

Todd Zolecki

Coming out of Burnsville High School, Adam Bailey wanted to be a place-kicker for a college football team. Unfortunately, not too many schools thought he could kick.
OK, minor setback. But he wasn’t going to let that stop him.
Bailey didn’t receive a scholarship offer from the Division II schools which recruited him, South Dakota State and North Dakota. So instead of settling at a place where he wasn’t wanted, he decided to walk-on at Minnesota.
He made the team. But as a back-up kicker to Mike Chalberg playing time was nonexistent. Bailey didn’t even play his first two years with the Gophers.
But he kept kicking and won the starting job this fall over Erin McManus. In the past few weeks the sophomore won a scholarship and turned into a big playmaker for the Gophers.
“He’s earned it,” Gophers special teams coach Mark Tommerdahl said. “He’s done a great job for us. Not only kicking field goals but on kick-offs, too.”
Bailey’s most important kick came with 42 seconds remaining in the Gophers’ 35-33 upset win over Syracuse last Saturday. He made a 26-yard field goal to win the game.
It was the biggest kick of his life.
About five minutes earlier he split the uprights on a career-long 48-yard field goal to put Minnesota within a point of Syracuse.
But a miss and Bailey would fit in the same category as Scott Norwood, who missed a game-winning field goal for the Buffalo Bills in Super Bowl XXV.
Of course this wasn’t the Super Bowl, or the Rose Bowl either. But for the Gophers, who have struggled to even be mentioned as a bowl team, a victory over the No. 23 Orangemen is treated like one.
So where was Bailey when time was running out and it became apparent he would be called upon to decide the game?
“I went to the opposite end of the sideline to get away from everybody,” Bailey said. “I didn’t want anybody saying, `You can make it.’ I went by myself and tried to block everything out.”
Most of the time players will pat him on the back and wish him luck. But Saturday it was probably more like, “Make this kick or you’ll be sleeping with the fishes.”
Tommerdahl and quarterbacks coach Jim Zorn spoke with Bailey briefly on the phone from their coaches booth above the football pressbox.
“We asked him what hash mark he wanted to kick from,” Tommerdahl said. “He said the left. We said, `OK,’ and that was it.'”
Bailey went out onto the field with 45,756 fans looking at him. He tried to concentrate.
“I hear the crowd before the kick but once the snap is in I don’t hear it until after I kick the ball,” he said. “It’s kind of weird how it kind of goes silent.”
Afterwards Bailey was ecstatic. His parents, grandparents and aunt and uncle were in the stands. The crowd and the Gophers were going nuts.
His family met with Bailey after the game.
“They didn’t know what to say,” he said. “I didn’t know what to say either.”
Not bad for a walk-on.
“To see a conviction and to stick to it, we’re so proud of him,” Bailey’s father, Rod, said. “A lot of people will sit back and not attempt something and wonder years from now whether he could have done it or not.”
For his effort Bailey was named Big Ten special teams player of the week.
“I didn’t imagine making that type of a field goal,” he said. “I couldn’t hope for anything like the field goals I’ve had in the last couple of weeks.”