RENTON — The current leading scorer in the National Football League did not play football until he was a sophomore in college.
And then, it was at a non-scholarship Division III college in Vermont, where he had been busy playing lacrosse and soccer, and being an honors-level neuroscience student.
Even after Steven Hauschka’s belated discovery of football talent led him to a Division I school for one season, he still faced a quandary of going to dental school or giving the NFL a try.
Then, he was on and off five NFL rosters before finding a home in Seattle.
These were the steps on an unconventional path that brought Hauschka to CenturyLink Field for Sunday’s Seahawks game against Minnesota.
As impressive as his league-leading 93 points (22 field goals and 27 point-after conversions) is his sizzling streak of accuracy over the past two seasons, in which he has nailed 49 of 53 field-goal attempts.
Of the four unsuccessful boots, two were blocked and the misses were from 61 and 51 yards.
“Right now he’s just so locked in ... as locked in as I’ve ever seen,” said Jon Ryan, the Seahawks’ punter and holder. “And I’ve been around some pretty good ones. I was with Olindo (Mare) here when he was on a great streak, and (Hauschka’s) locked in like that.”
Kicking is perhaps the most psychologically challenging of the football disciplines, as a player is so often brought on in pressurized scoring situations.
“There’s a lot that goes into it,” Hauschka said. “I think that’s why I’ve gotten better every year; I’ve put together the pieces to figure out what works and what doesn’t.”
It seems, then, that all kickers should be students of neuroscience — or perhaps Zen archery.
“Something I’ve done better this year is letting go mentally,” Hauschka said. “You build the machine in the offseason with workouts and technique work, then during the season you kind of shut your brain off and let it play out.”
Ryan kids Hauschka about his intelligence and cerebral approach.
“Sometimes you look over and see him staring into space for minutes at a time,” Ryan said. “You know he’s thinking about something ... deep thoughts, I guess.”
He might be busy calculating the long odds against his reaching this point in his career ... drilling field goals rather than molars.
His father was a 6-foot-6, 250-pound rugby player who took up punting, and landed a brief contract with the Dallas Cowboys in the late 1960s. He passed along the punting/kicking rudiments to his son, but Hauschka mostly applied them to soccer at Middlebury College.
Those who winced at the sight of Hauschka’s attempted kickoff-coverage tackle against Tennessee, which left him bloodied and concussed, should be aware that in his college lacrosse days, he played the position “attackman.”
At 6-4, Hauschka is a collection of levers that effectively launch footballs. With coaching by a kicking specialist, Steve Wolf, he became an all-conference kicker and punter at Middlebury. And when he graduated, cum laude, he was eligible to transfer to Division I North Carolina State, where he was a teammate of Hawks quarterback Russell Wilson.
In the final exhibition game of 2011, Hauschka kicked the winning 51-yard field goal for the Broncos over the Seahawks. When Denver waived him in the final cut, the Seahawks picked him up and put him to work.
Ryan marvels at Hauschka’s effortless motion — unhurried as a Fred Couples backswing.
“It’s never forced,” he said. “It looks like he’s not kicking hard and it will go 55 yards.”
It’s not coincidental that it resembles a smooth golf swing; Hauschka carries a 3 handicap.
“(Golf) is like mental training for me, with similarities to kicking,” Hauschka said. “You don’t need to swing too hard. If you have a good motion, you can trust it. When you try too hard, you get jerky. You’ve got to trust your swing.”
His “swing” has earned the Seahawks’ trust, as he established a franchise record of 21 consecutive regular-season games with a field goal (snapped at St. Louis this season when he had no attempts).
At 28, Hauschka should be entering his prime.
“If you look at the history of kickers, they tend to improve steadily through their late 20s and early 30s,” he said. “That’s when you figure out the motion and the training.”
And learn how to turn their minds off when they’re kicking.