By Ashley Dunkak
FORD FIELD (CBS DETROIT) – Watching the Detroit Lions celebrate the first NFL kick of YouTube sensation Havard Rugland, one might think he had just won the team a playoff game.
In reality, Rugland had converted a 49-yard attempt in the first football game in which he had ever played – a preseason game against the New York Jets. Nevertheless, his teammates looked absolutely thrilled. One threw Rugland over his shoulder, others cheered and high-fived, and veteran kicker David Akers had a huge grin on his face.
After a beaming Rugland finished getting congratulated, Akers walked over to the relative youngster – Akers is 38 years old and will turn 39 during this season – and put his hand on Rugland’s shoulder. Part of what he said next was less profound than practical.
“I actually almost forgot my kickoff afterwards, I was so happy,” Rugland said with a laugh. “Luckily I have David helping me out. He said, ‘Hey, Havard, you’ve got a kickoff.’ It’s always nice to have someone to help you out.”
The first NFL game Rugland, formerly a Norwegian amateur soccer player, saw live was in New York in 2011. The next year he attended another one, his second, in San Diego.
His third ever NFL game, Rugland was in uniform for the Lions, nailing field goals of 49 and 50 yards.
Rugland caught the Lions’ attention with his “Kickalicious” video, a four-minute display of all kinds of trick kicks. According to Detroit’s team website, Rugland started following the NFL in 2011 after watching the Super Bowl and began training with former NFL kicker Michael Husted in San Diego in November 2012.
“I was hoping, but I never expected to get an opportunity,” Rugland said, “so I’m really happy to be here.”
If their reaction and comments are any indication, his teammates are happy to have him. They enjoy his sunny demeanor and his approach to the game, which is a grind for so many players but for Rugland is just fun right now.
“We’re all happy to have him as a teammate,” quarterback Matthew Stafford said. “The guy’s a great guy. It’s refreshing to see how much fun he’s having. The guy’s having a blast here, and he’s doing a great job. He’s kicking the ball great.
“I’m not sure if it’s true,” Stafford added, “it might be his first football game he’s ever been to in his life, and he’s playing in the NFL and he’s kicking and he’s making 50-yarders. It’s an awesome story. The guy’s a pretty darn good kicker.”
The Lions have already signed veteran David Akers as their kicker for this season, and it seems highly unlikely Detroit would use a roster spot for a backup kicker given the likelihood of injury at that position compared to the chance of it at other positions that see more brutal action. Still, Lions coach Jim Schwartz said no player is being kept around without reason.
“You need to be prepared,” Schwartz said. “We talk all the time about having depth at different positions and things like that. It’s not often that you talk about having depth at placekicker or punter, but I think both Havard and [punter] Blake [Clingan], both of those guys are potential quality NFL players. They’ve both had good camps, and they’re both in the mix for us.”