After spending their first five picks of the 2019 NFL Draft on their defense, the Buccaneers switched things up with the 145th overall pick. No, they didn’t go offense. They went with kicker Matt Gay out of Utah.
Tampa Bay fans collectively sighed when the pick was announced, but snap judgments aren’t exactly fair. No one seemed to freak out when the Browns drafted a kicker of their own in round five. The Patriots also spent their fifth-round pick on a punter. Even earlier on, the 49ers drafted a punter in the fourth (that punter was Gay’s teammate at Utah). So, before rushing to judgment on the pick and calling for Jason Licht’s job again and again, why can’t we let things play out?
Even with Tampa Bay bringing Cairo Santos back this spring, Gay is now the favorite to be the team’s kicker in 2019. Cutting Santos would cost less, so it’s likely that Gay will get his shot to take the job in camp. With that being said, here are three things you need to know about new Bucs kicker Matt Gay.
Gay was highly successful in soccer before having success in football
Before he joined Utah for the 2017 season, Gay played soccer at Utah Valley University. He spent the 2014 and 2016 seasons with the Wolverines, and he had a solid two years on the pitch. As a freshman, he scored a team-leading seven goals and while adding four assists. He earned second-team All-West Region honors from the NSCAA in addition to receiving Academic All-WAC honors. Overall, he played in 33 games (18 starts) at Utah Valley, scoring eight goals and adding five assists.
His soccer background goes back further than that, as he was a three-time all-state player at Orem High School. He also participated in a U.S. Soccer National Team Residency. But after finishing up with soccer at Utah Valley, Gay decided to walk on at Utah in 2017. He was a kicker and punter in high school, but it wasn’t until he joined the Utes that he saw significant success in the sport. In 2017, he was a consensus All-American and won the Lou Groza Award, which is given to the nation’s top kicker. He led nation in made field goals (30), made field goals from 50-plus (five) and field goals attempted (34). He was an All-American and a semifinalist for the Lou Groza Award again in 2018 after making 26 of his 31 attempts. He left his name in the Utah history books, ranking third in program history with 56 field goals made and third in “career kick scoring points” with 253.
It’s not uncommon for soccer players to transition and have success as kickers in football. Plenty have done it, and even Tottenham Hotspur star Harry Kane said recently that he one day wants to kick in the NFL.
Gay, the youngest of eight children, has been through some ups and downs
Gay comes from a Mormon family, and he is the youngest of eight children. A story from The Salt Lake Tribune in December 2017 detailed Gay’s family life and some of what the former soccer player has experienced on his rise to being the nation’s best kicker. One of his brothers overdosed twice on heroin before getting clean. Another brother came out as gay, which, as the article puts it, “can be an adjustment for many families, especially one living smack dab in the middle of mainstream Mormondom.”
Gay later had some pretty severe struggles, tearing his ACL and MCL while also hurting his meniscus during a football practice. His Dixie State soccer career ended up not happening, and the coach at the school wouldn’t release him, even when Utah State showed interest in him as a kicker. After playing soccer at Utah Valley, Gay went on a church mission to Houston, but fell into depression, which had run in his family. He slowly got treatment back home and, as of the time the article was published in December 2017, said he still has his good and bad days. But it was around then when Gay decided to kick footballs, which led to a walk-on shot with Utah. He obviously went on to have plenty of success, something that was previously predicted by one of his best friends. From The Salt Lake Tribune’s article:
“There’s one other aspect to Gay’s remarkable tale — a best friend from high school named Parker Overly, a kid who encouraged Gay more than anyone else to drop soccer and kick a freaking football. “Dude, you can kick in the NFL,” he told his buddy Matt. Overly was killed in an auto accident in April.”
Gay said Overly is one of the driving reasons behind his success as a kicker. Now, he’s moving on to kicking in the NFL, just like his late friend said would happen.
Gay’s leg is STRONG
There’s very obviously a reason as to why Gay is getting a shot in the NFL. There’s a reason he drew interest from football coaches while he was starring in soccer. He has a booming leg, and it has been put on full display in the last couple of years. With Utah, he connected on 11 of his 14 attempts from 50-plus yards out. He had a long of 56, which came in 2017, but he has connected on kicks from over 60 yards out in practices and scrimmages. His NFL.com draft profile notes that he nailed a 62-yarder in Utah’s Red and White game.
Watched this guy drill 60+ yarders in East-West Shrine Game practices a couple months ago. https://t.co/8vuYpWCNc6— Carmen Vitali (@CarmieV) April 27, 2019
His leg is strong, but he hasn’t sacrificed any accuracy. During his time with the Utes, he hit on 56 of his 65 attempts. He was 85-for-85 on extra points. Here, Pro Football Focus detailed his success over the 2017 and 2018 seasons:
New @Buccaneers K Matt Gay was far and away @PFF's highest graded kicker when combining the 2017 and 2018 seasons.— PFF TB Buccaneers (@PFF_Buccaneers) April 27, 2019
In those two seasons, Gay was perfect on extra points, 37/38 from 39 yards and in, 11/16 from 40-49, and 11/14 from 50+ pic.twitter.com/lk045utc9G
The combination of strength and accuracy is something the Bucs hope can cure their kicking woes. A lot has been said about the “Curse of Matt Bryant,” and the team is desperate to end the struggles in 2019. By selecting Gay in the fifth round, the front office clearly thinks he is the guy that can do it.
You can find Matt Gay on Twitter @MGtweetymonster. His Twitter is private, but go ahead and congratulate him and welcome him to Tampa Bay.