Pickering got off on the wrong foot. Now the kicker from Alabama can’t miss
LINCOLN — Barret Pickering stood outside Ryan Field, his hands jammed in black gym shorts, and stared at his flip-flops.
The worst kicking year of his life was getting worse.
That day in Evanston, Illinois, he missed a 45-yarder. Hit the upright. Didn’t play the wind well at all, he said. He missed an extra point, too. Sailed that one wide.
Pickering could feel the trust being sucked away from coaches. That was apparent when coach Scott Frost was looking to go for it on fourth down on the opponent’s side of the 50 rather than let him kick.
“Just didn’t get the job done and kind of hurt our team because I didn’t get it done out there,” Pickering said, leaning against bleachers. “I’m hitting the ball fine during the week, I’m just coming out here and just didn’t get it done today. It’s not acceptable for the way I played today.”
Pickering thanked the media for its time, then walked through the gate of the stadium with his head down. He got on the bus and was headed home.
Since leaving Ryan Field that day, the true freshman hasn’t missed.
Not from 32 yards against Minnesota, not from 29 yards against Bethune-Cookman, not from 18 yards to pull Nebraska within a score at Ohio State in the fourth quarter. And not from 36, or 20, or 47 against Michigan State on a snowy afternoon in Lincoln on Saturday. The Alabama native had never kicked a football in the snow.
“Definitely just trusting what I do and having fun out there,” Pickering said postgame, this time at a podium and this time with a grin. “Just believing in myself.”
Pickering is the story of this year’s team in a lot of ways. He was a Mike Riley commit, heralded as a top recruit in his position. When the new staff came in, he was re-evaluated and wasn’t given the starting position until midway through fall camp.
In the first five games, he struggled with the rest of the team. Missed his first field goal from 44 yards against Colorado. Missed another in the Troy game, a bad one from 33 yards. As he walked off the field, Frost walked over to him on the sideline.
“Barret,” he called out. “Gotta make that.”
He missed again against Purdue. Then there was the Northwestern game. Nebraska fell to 0-6. Pickering was last in the conference in field goal percentage (55 percent).
Then, for whatever reason, he began to roll. Nebraska strung together a few wins. That led to Saturday.
He made his first from 36, and that felt good. Then another from 20, when the snow was really starting to fall, and that was easy. When Nebraska was in striking distance again, the decision for Frost was easy.
“Barret hitting those two field goals, I had enough confidence in him at that point to let him go out and try a long one,” Frost said.
He and holder Isaac Armstrong ran out and dusted snow off the right hash mark of the 31-yard line. Tight end Jack Stoll lined up on the right. Jerald Foster in the middle next to Tanner Farmer. All three had confidence in their kicker.
The snap was good, the hold was good and Pickering pointed the ball left and high. Squinting through the snow, the kicker watched the ball bend right and hit the net.
Then he was walloped. Farmer slapped his helmet and hugged him hard.
“I was hoping I didn’t hurt him,” Farmer said.
The 80,000 in attendance shook the press box. On the sideline, linebacker Mohamed Barry and the rest of the team spilled out onto the field.
Foster picked Pickering up and put the 6-foot, 195-pound freshman on his shoulder, carrying him toward the sideline of screams.
“Jerald! Jerald!” Pickering yelled. “I gotta go kick the kickoff.”
Foster put him down and slapped his helmet.
“Go do your thing, little man,” Foster said.
In the postgame press conference, Pickering thanked Sam Foltz and Mike Sadler — the two punters who were killed in a July 2016 car accident — for inspiring him. And when he left the podium, he got fist-bumps from teammates all the way back to the locker room.
“Everyone wishes for an Adam Vinatieri moment,” Barry said. “He got his today.”