Kicking is family pasttime for Nystroms

Sarah Mitchell

Cooper High School placekicker Mary Nystrom is literally following in the footsteps of her older brother Dan.
Dan, now a true freshman with the Minnesota football team, was the Hawks’ two-time all-state kicker. Now that he’s earned the starting role with the Gophers football team, he’s primarily handling the team’s extra points and field goal attempts.
Losing an all-stater like Dan would seemingly leave the Hawks with an unanswerable question mark.
But Mary has been the coaching staff’s saving grace by shadowing her brother.
“These two were always buddies, playing in the backyard or going to soccer games together,” said Susan Nystrom, the siblings’ mother. “There was a point when Mary asked if she could wrestle because Dan did. That’s when I said no.”
Raising Dan and Mary along with her husband Norman, Susan was a soccer mom. But in high school, Dan donated his strong leg to Cooper’s football program.
Dan was a four-year starter for the Hawks. He averaged nearly 41 yards a punt and connecting on 7-of-12 field goal attempts in his final season.
“He’s just one of those guys who comes around once in a while,” Hawks coach John Oelfke said. “He has the whole package. He can kick right footed, left footed … and on top of that he’s just a good guy.”
The kicker from New Hope’s consistency and strong leg helped him make the transition to the next level. In his first collegiate field goal attempt (during the Gophers’ 33-7 home squashing of Ohio), Dan tied a school freshman record with a 49-yard field goal. The 5-feet-11-inches tall kicker is three of four on field goals through three games while kicking a perfect 16-of-16 extra points.
“The coaches want me to make everything. One hundred percent from 42-yard field goals and in, and all of my extra points,” he said. “But even from 50 yards and back I feel like I should make it.”
The Gophers fortunes created chaos for Cooper. Suddenly last season’s jokes about Mary being Dan’s successor weren’t so funny. The whole Nystrom family once considered the whole idea laughable.
Cooper’s women’s soccer assistant coach and Mary’s kicking coach Dana Anderson recalls the younger Nystrom finding out about the opening and saying, “If Cooper needs me.”
So for this season, Mary traded in her football mascot uniform for a helmet and cleats, and made it through her first meeting with the football team.
“I started walking over to practice and all 60 guys in the huddle just stopped,” Mary said. “Coach had them came over and watch me. My first one went through. My second one was a line driver that hit one of the coaches in the head.”
So far, practice has been the only real measure of Mary’s potential. Saddled by an unproductive offense, the captain of Cooper’s women’s soccer team hasn’t seen many opportunities. Mary has missed two extra-point attempts, prompting some brotherly advice.
“There’s usually more than one chance in the game. If you miss one, you have to come back out and make the next one,” Dan said. “That’s the biggest mental part of the game. You have to think about it for two plays, figure out what went wrong and forget about it.”
So while Mary is still trying to figure out where all the pads fit into her uniform, her mom offers support to both her kickers.
“I always tell them the future’s wide open,” Susan said. “I can only cheer and be there when it doesn’t go through the uprights.”

Sarah Mitchell is a general assignment reporter and welcomes comments at [email protected]