The Portland Thunder have gone through three kickers in three games now. Their first one, Brady Beeson, hit on all six of his extra point attempts, but had several horrific kickoffs, including a 20-yarder. In search of someone who could hit the rebound nets on kickoffs, Head Coach Mike Hohensee turned to local kickers to fill the need.
First he went to Michael Braunstein, who had continued to visit with friends on the team in the offseason. Braunstein, however, was already in Maui on a vacation for spring break from his job at Adrenaline Fundraising, making him unavailable to get back and play that Friday. Instead, the Thunder found another local kicker from last year in Zach Ramirez, who came in and got kicks to the nets and converted six of seven extra point attempts.
Ramirez was set to be the starter again against the Spokane Shock, but a CFL contract issue from a couple of years ago caused a paperwork problem and he was ruled ineligible to continue play in the AFL.
- On Monday, Braunstein arrived back in Portland and let Hohensee know he was in town and available.
- On Tuesday, Braunstein got the call that he was needed.
- On Wednesday, he stopped by his first practice as a member of the team since last May of last year.
- On Thursday morning, he passed his physical, and on Thursday night he found himself kicking in front of thousands of fans at the Moda Center.
“He was rusty pregame – I’m watching him kick extra points in pregame and thinking ‘Oh my God.’ I’m looking at my two-point plays, wondering what we’re going to have to do,” said Hohensee. “But the kid stepped up and finished strong.”
After shaking off the rust with an awkward miss on the first PAT attempt of the game, Braunstein had a solid game, making his PATs and consistently making life difficult for Spokane returner Ruschard Dodd-Masters. Aside from one return that went for 38 yards, the Spokane offense spent the night starting drives inside their own five after a kickoff.
“I thought my kickoffs were really good for not having kicked [competitively] in a year,” Braunstein said.
“I thought he did okay for just flying in from Maui. I know if I came from Maui, I wouldn’t be ready to kick. I thought he did a good job. He’s got to be better, but I think he expects that out of himself as well,” Hohensee said.
Kickers don’t get a lot of credit for being able to kick 60+ yards to the net a dozen times per game while being able to make kicks through uprights half the size of an NFL target. That doesn’t mean it’s easy, and fatigue plays a role in a kicker’s success, especially in the AFL, where teams are kicking off more often than a typical NFL team.
Late in the game and afterwards, the fatigue started catching up to him.
“I’m feeling like crap right now,” said Braunstein. “About the third, fourth quarter, my leg was feeling very heavy. My second miss down here was me just not finishing my kick with my hips and my leg was just tired. When you get tired, your hip doesn’t go all the way through the ball, and then you leave the ball off to the right if you’re a right-footed kicker. It just drifts. I adjusted myself on the next one to put us up four and finish off the game, though.”
He might have been extra tired after a long day that started with kicking, too. At his house in the Tualatin area, he woke up and checked to make sure he’d have enough leg for the game.
“This morning, I walked in my back yard on my turf and hit a couple over my house into the next house on their front yard. I felt great, so I said, ‘Why not?’” said Braunstein. “It’s like a major league pitcher – if you call him up and ask him to pitch, he can do it, but he’s going to hurt and not feel good the next day.”
Now that Braunstein has that first game under his belt and put in a solid performance, have the Thunder found their kicker for the rest of the season?
“I have no idea. No idea what’s going on,” Braunstein said.
With the Thunder on the road in Phoenix next week to take on the Rattlers, Braunstein hopes he’ll be able to take the field near his hometown of Gilbert, Ariz. He wasn’t on the roster for the team’s trip to the desert in 2014, so he’s looking forward to the opportunity. Fortunately, he has nine days to recover from the game against the Shock – don’t expect him to head to Maui in preparation, though.