LAWRENCE — The story of how Matthew Wyman became the starting kicker at Kansas is a nice little lesson in peculiar confidence and fortunate timing. But first, you must hear about the beginning, during his days as a part-time kicker and punter at Andover High in Bloomfield Hills, Mich. If the story is to be believed, Wyman kicked behind what must have been one of the worst punt protection units in the country.
Wyman was a solid high school soccer player, good enough to earn league honors, always the kid with the strongest leg. So senior year, when the football coach came looking for kickers, Wyman and another kid decided to split the duties.
Wyman would kick off and punt. The other kid would handle extra points and field goals — if they even tried them. The problem, Wyman says, was he could never quite learn to love punting. Something about trying to kick a ball with a kid running in his face.
“I got a lot blocked,” Wyman says. “My line wasn’t very good.”
A couple of soccer injuries — including a fractured back — ended Wyman’s kicking experiment after just a few games. But he never stopped believing in his leg. Wherever he went to college, he thought, he’d attempt to walk on as a kicker.
His mom, Wyman says, recommended a visit to Kansas. And he and his dad picked a pretty good weekend to come to Lawrence. They went to the final basketball game between Kansas and Missouri at Allen Fieldhouse, and that was pretty much it.
“I knew right from then I wanted to go here,” Wyman says.
So last fall, Wyman showed up for walk-on tryouts, attempted a few kicks, and the coaching staff told him to come back in the spring. Sorry, kid, not enough room.
So while the Kansas kicking game suffered all fall, one of the worst parts of a 1-11 season, Wyman lived in a dorm room and watched a few games from the stands. Sometimes, when Wyman wasn’t watching, his father would text with news that KU’s kicker had missed another kick.
“There were some times when I would say, ‘I could make that,’” Wyman says. “But no worries. I figured I’d get my chance.”
The chance came during fall camp. Wyman struggled a bit after joining the program for spring practice, but after getting used to his surroundings, he felt more comfortable. He started making kicks, started stretching out his range to 50 yards. He beat out incumbent Ron Doherty and juco transfer Michael Mesh, and when KU opens its season at 6 p.m. Saturday against South Dakota, Wyman will handle the field-goal duties while transfer Trevor Pardula kicks off and punts.
That’s probably for the best, of course. Wyman always hated punting.
“I started off slow,” he said. “My nerves got the best of me. And then I started making some. I started to get to know the guys. My nerves kind of went away.”