Andrew Baggett’s first sport cost him the growth of a leg.
As a sophomore at Lee’s Summit North High School, he wasn’t wearing shin guards during a practice. A sharp kick to his right shin damaged the plate inside.
On Monday, just across from the glossy weight room at Missouri’s athletic training complex — the facility that attracted the Tigers’ current redshirt freshman kicker out of high school — Baggett smiles about the injury. It’s a big smile that could hide any pain or any inconvenience that was surely caused. As it is, there’s an inch or so of extra support in the sole of the Nike he’s wearing.
As it is, that right leg has been effective for Baggett and Missouri during the past five weeks. He has connected on seven straight field goals, spanning from 22 to 44 yards out.
“I don't really think any differently of myself,” said Baggett when asked if the streak has boosted his confidence. “I see it as I’m doing what I’m supposed to. (Quarterback) James (Franklin) is supposed to make passes. Linebackers are supposed to make tackles. I’m supposed to make kicks.”
Coach Gary Pinkel calls the game “team-oriented” and a job like Baggett’s “very individual.”
“You’re in an arena; you’re out there by yourself,” Pinkel said. “… Bottom line: You’re called to make the kick. You’ve got to have something special about you to be able to do something like that in that kind of environment."
It’s the game Baggett only began playing roughly three years ago, when Lee’s Summit’s football coach approached Baggett’s soccer coach in search of a kicker.
“I kind of thought about it,” Baggett said. “I had a few friends that quit soccer, went and played football. Basically, my way in college was through a sport, either soccer or football.”
In January of his senior year, he was called down to meet wide receivers coach Andy Hill in an office at Lee’s Summit.
“I was probably acting like a little schoolgirl,” Baggett said. “I was a little excited.”
After visiting campus and the athletic complex, Baggett found a place he couldn’t walk away from.
“I developed my fondness of the weight room here,” he said, a 6-foot-2-inch, 215-pound kicker. “I like to work out. It’s nice to blow off steam.”
And then he found a place in Pinkel’s system, in a set of beliefs the coach runs his program by. There’s one that pertains to kickers.
“What we like to do, philosophically, we like to bring a player in as a walk-on and (let them) compete to earn the job,” Pinkel said. “I think it’s very difficult to predict the player right out of high school. For him to come in and be a kicker in front of 75,000 people …”
In his redshirt year, Baggett was able to learn the environment he stepped into. He said he was able to acquaint himself with the crowd, with the landscape drastically morphed from the one he kicked in during his senior year of high school.
Heading into this season, he was exposed to the competition for a job surrounded by the summer heat. He went toe-to-toe with Trey Barrow, a senior and a friend, before winning the competition.
“There was a line between … I don't want to ruin my friend’s opportunities, but I also don't want to ruin my own,” Baggett said.
In his third game against Arizona State, he missed three of his four field goal attempts. His team won, but that didn’t help Baggett’s conscious much. He said he might have slept four hours that night. He woke up and went to work out.
“Sometimes, those guys are their own worst enemies,” Pinkel said of kickers.
But ever since that night against the Sun Devils on Sept. 15, Barrett has yet to miss a field goal. He said he focuses on not changing his form, knowing the precise steps leading up to the crank of his right leg have always worked.
There are stakes, Barrett said.
“They decided to give me the spot, so the pressure comes more from not losing it,” he said. “When you have nothing to lose, it's a lot easier on you. When you have everything to lose, it’s a little more stressful.”
Indeed, there’s a cost to the game. In this one, Baggett is making sacrifices. The engineering major is balancing his meticulous practice with 13 hours (a “time-consuming 13 hours”) of school credit. A scholarship has yet to be offered.
“My parents have to pay my way through college,” he said. “I don’t want them to have to do that.”
The kicker is getting attention now for his recent performances. There were doubts of the kicking game heading into the season, and Baggett has seemingly extinguished those doubts behind seven straight field goals. Through interviews, he shows his smile often.
“I’m actually going to work out after this,” he said.