August 11, 2012
Boot battle between buddies
They’re good friends, even brothers in a sense, and they’re going after the same job during the New York Jets training camp.
Nick Folk and Josh Brown are the two kickers in Camp Cortland this summer. The 27-year-old Folk has been the Jets’ kicker the last two seasons, while the 33-year-old Brown is the newcomer signed by the team after being cut in April by the St. Louis Rams — who had drafted Greg Zuerlein from Missouri Western State.
“Our kicking performance was average. I don’t think it was any better than that,” Jets special teams coach Mike Westhoff said of last season, when Folk was 19-of-25 in field goals. “We wanted to try to create the best competitive situation we could. I was prepared to do it in the draft. It didn’t materialize that way so then when we saw that Josh was available that was a really viable competitor and we were happy to have him. So we’ve got a good competitive situation there, and that’s what we care about.”
Folk and Brown each connected for a field goal during the Jets’ 17-6 loss at Cincinnati Friday night in the first pre-season game of the season. Brown connected from 42 yards in the second quarter. Folk nailed a 38-yarder during fourth-quarter play.
It isn’t the ideal situation for a friendship to bloom, but it’s easy to see that Folk and Brown are like brothers in a fraternity — the kicking fraternity.
“We’ve known each other for quite a while now and we respect each other a great deal,” Folk said. “He’s been doing this, I think he’s going on year 10 and I’m going on year six, so we’ve been doing it for a while. We have a lot of respect for each other and we’re both doing a pretty good job. It’s hard to get mad or get upset or bicker with a guy who’s a really nice guy.
“He’s really down to earth, a lot of fun to be around and I pick up little things from him kicking-wise, on what he does. I don’t know if he’s doing the same. But he’s a great guy to be around. I’ve got a lot of respect for him and it’s been good competition so far.”
While the two knew each other casually, it was this off-season in which they really started to connect.
“I first met Josh my second year in the league (with Dallas in 2008), his first year in St. Louis, when we played there and really got to know him this off-season actually before he came to the Jets,” Folk said. “He was still with St. Louis and we were training together out in San Diego for a good week, week and a half. We trained and kicked together and became good friends, then he came here and we’ve been pretty good friends ever since.
“We’ve known each other because of playing for a long time, but we’ve actually gotten to kick and work out together this year in the off-season,” said Brown, who was 21-for-28 last season with the Rams. “And then to be kind of thrown into this, yeah, it’s a little awkward, but I think both of us are being really professional about it, quite honestly, and kind of cheering for each other to do well because we’re both good. But in the end, there’s only one job.”
Brown was surprised when the Jets expressed an interest in him.
“I didn’t understand the circumstances of what they wanted or what they saw until I got here and talked to them, but at the same time it was exciting; it was the new York Jets,” he said. “There’s a lot of history here. They’ve been making real good runs, two AFC championship games in the last three years, and it’s exciting. That’s what you want to do; you want to play to win, and being able to play for a team that’s winning, that’s what you want. In that aspect it was exciting to have the opportunity to go to a playoff-capable team.”
As if to underline the extent of the connections between Folk and Brown, the stories of how they first became kickers are remarkably similar.
“I grew up playing soccer, so I always just could kick the ball a long way,” Brown said. “I had a lot of power from the age of 7, 8, 9; I was really good at it. In seventh grade I had some football buddies who asked me to come out and play kicker for the team and kind of started that way. I ended up playing running back and safety, other different positions all through junior high, high school (in Foyil, Okla.) and in college, going into Nebraska, and was able to do a number of things. That’s kind of where it came from, kicking field goals on soccer fields in seventh grade.”
Friends and a change in sports play a big part in Folk’s story as well.
“It started my freshman year in high school. I went to a private Catholic high school, Notre Dame in Sherman Oaks, California. I knew four other people going to this high school; one of them was going to play football so I said all right, I’ll play too. The year before, two kids from my K-through-eight school went to Notre Dame and one of them was the kicker; I said ‘OK, I’ll be the kicker. I can kick the ball pretty far.’
“I played soccer growing up so I started kicking on the side just for fun, to meet people. It started out as a meeting thing; I ended up being pretty good at it and made a pretty tough decision when I decided to go to the University of Arizona to play football instead of soccer. It’s a good decision so far.”
Kickers as a group and by the nature of their job are somewhat set apart from the rest of their team during practice. Though Westhoff has carved out some time near the end of practice sessions for them to show what they can do, both men are satisfied with being isolated for much of each practice.
“That gives us time to work on our craft,” Folk said. “It’s very technical and we have to be technically sound with everything we do, from our starting position to our ending position, where we kick the ball and all that stuff. We have time to work on that stuff, which is good, and get time to work on our rhythm with Tanner (Purdum) and T.J. (Conley) and Travis (Baltz), the snapper and the holders. We have a good relationship, all of us, and we have a good chunk of time to perfect what we do. I think it’s good for us.”
“I like it the way it is, and it’s the only thing I’ve ever known,” said Brown. “Obviously in college you do other things. You’re specializing, but you’re not a pro. We’re pros now, so our job requires us to do certain things and stay out of the way at certain times. We help out in certain areas, but this is the way that I like it. I want to be left alone to master my craft, and I’ve got to do for my body what my body needs, and I’m on a different schedule than everybody else. So it just kind of works out.”
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