Stephen Carroll Gostkowski (pronounced "gust-OW-ski"; the first 'K' is silent) (born January 28, 1984 in Baton Rouge, Louisiana) is an American football placekicker for the New England Patriots of the National Football League. He was drafted in the fourth round of the 2006 with the 118th pick, one of just two kickers drafted, and the only rookie kicker to make an NFL roster that year. Gostkowski, who played both college football and baseball for the University of Memphis, is the most accurate kicker in Patriots history, and one of the most accurate kickers in NFL history.
His most common nickname growing up was "Beaver"; he lost two front teeth playing hockey and had fake teeth that were too large put in as replacements. While at Memphis, he was dubbed "Gotti" by Tigers head coach Tommy West, because West couldn't pronounce Gostkowski correctly.
High school yearsEdit
Gostkowski graduated from Madison Central High School (Mississippi) in Madison, Mississippi in 2002. While there, he won four varsity letters each in football and soccer, and three in baseball, and was an All-State honoree in all three sports. Gostkowski holds the school record for longest field goal, a 55-yard kick. His teammates at Madison Central included current 49ers Linebacker Parys Haralson and Seahawks Center (American football) Chris Spencer. His opponents included current Atlanta Falcons RB Jerious Norwood, who returned one of Gostkowski's kickoffs from two yards deep in the end zone; Gostkowski raced him down at the 25-yard line to prevent a touchdown.
Gostkowski attended the University of Memphis where he majored in Exercise and Sport Science. Gostkowski actually received a baseball scholarship at Memphis, and was a walk-on on the football team. He finished his college career with a total of 369 points, a school record, and 13th overall in NCAA Division I-A history, converting 70 of 92 Field Goals and 159 of 165 Extra points (PATs) during his Tiger career. His 70 FGs and 159 PATs both set school records previously held by Joe Allison (1990-1993). He earned first team All-Conference USA honors in both his junior and senior years and was named Conference USA's Special Teams Player of the Year in 2005.
In 2005, his senior season, Gostkowski handled kickoff duties for Memphis, and had 39 touchbacks on 68 kickoffs. Gostkowski did so using a one-inch tee (the height of NFL tees), rather than the two-inch tees allowed by the NCAA at the time. Thus, NFL talent scouts could more accurately project his potential.
In a game against Houston, Gostkowski managed the rare feat of recovering his own onside kick.
Gostkowski was drafted by the New England Patriots in the fourth round of the 2006 NFL Draft with the 118th pick. During the Patriots' 2006 training camp, he competed with veteran kicker Martín Gramática, who the Patriots had signed as a free agent after Adam Vinatieri signed with the Indianapolis Colts. On August 23, 2006, before their third preseason game, the Patriots cut Gramática, and gave the job to rookie Gostkowski. (This is the reverse of what the makers of the video game Madden NFL '07 expected; in the game, New England's place kicker is Gramática, not Gostkowski, who is listed as a free agent.)
During the 2006 preseason, Gostkowski was perfect on kicks and PATs, going 9-for-9 and 11-for-11, respectively, for a total of 38 points. His longest field goal was a 54-yard attempt against the New York Giants in the last preseason game. On November 26, 2006, Gostkowski made the longest regular-season kick of his young career, a 52-yard kick against the Chicago Bears, which is also the longest kick ever made at Gillette Stadium. Gostkowski finished the 2006 season as the highest-scoring rookie, with 103 points (20 field goals and 43 PATs), edging out the 96 points scored by Jacksonville running back Maurice Jones-Drew.
While Gostkowski struggled early in his rookie season—he had two consecutive kicks blocked—Patriots reporters and fans have noted that his kickoffs are noticeably longer than were Vinatieri's in his last season in Foxboro. During the 2006 season, he averaged 65.5 yards per kickoff with a return average of 23 yards, and a total of 12 touchbacks. (By comparison, in 2005, Vinatieri's average kickoff was just 61.6 yards, though playing in a dome in 2006 he averaged 65.8 yards.) He also, somewhat surprisingly, did better overall on FG kicks than did opposing teams: while Gostkowski made 20 of 26 kicks, for a conversion rate of 76.9%, opposing kickers made just 22 of 30, for a conversion rate of just 73.3%. Gostkowski's rookie season was statistically about the same as Vinatieri's: Vinatieri converted 27 of 35 kicks (77.3%), but missed three PATs (39/42).
Gostkowski also had to contend with having three different holders during the season. After his first holder, punter Josh Miller, was placed on injured reserve after week 11, the Patriots signed Ken Walter, who held for weeks 12 to 15 until he too was placed on IR. Though the Patriots hired Todd Sauerbrun to punt, holding duties were given to the Patriots' backup quarterback Matt Cassel (which led to one regular-season kick that, while good, made two bizarre turns in mid-air).
In the 2006 of the 2006 postseason against the New York Jets, Gostkowski was perfect on all his kick attempts, converting three field goal attempts (from 20, 40, and 28 yards) and four extra points. He also had one kickoff go through the back of the end zone (over 80 yards) for a touchback.
In the 2006 against the San Diego Chargers, Gostkowski made three of three field goals, including a 50-yard kick that was the longest successful kick in Patriots postseason history. He also made a 34-yarder in the third quarter and a 31-yard kick with 1:10 left in the fourth that made him only the third NFL rookie to attempt a game-winning playoff kick in the fourth quarter or overtime. (One of the others was Chargers kicker Nate Kaeding, who missed his attempt in the 2004 playoffs; in this game, Kaeding missed a potential game-tying 54-yarder in the closing seconds.) Gostkowski also converted his only extra point attempt of the game following a Jabar Gaffney touchdown in the second quarter.
In the 2006, Gostkowski again converted all of his kicks (two field goals and four PATs), and recorded two touchbacks on kickoffs, including one late in the fourth quarter after his second kick gave the Patriots a 34-31 lead.
Expectations from the Vinatieri yearsEdit
As an untested rookie, Gostkowski faced special scrutiny in the playoffs, given the playoff heroics of Vinatieri. Gostkowski performed admirably, making all eight of his field goal kicks; he also recorded three touchbacks, including two in the Patriots' January 21, 2007 loss to the Colts at the RCA Dome.
Although Gostkowski ranked just 30th in field goal attempts through the first 12 weeks of the NFL season (16 attempts, 14 converted), he managed to equal his entire 2006 output in those 12 weeks, thanks to an NFL-leading 61 extra point attempts, all of which he converted. In Week 15, against the Jets, Gostkowski broke Uwe von Schamann's record for most PATs converted in a season, with his 67th successful attempt. In Week 16, against the Dolphins, for whom von Schamann played, Gostkowski also had his 71st PAT attempt, breaking von Schamann's record of 70. Gostkowski finished the season with three more PATs against the New York Giants in Week 17 to finish a perfect 74-for-74 on PATs, eclipsing Jeff Wilkins' 1999 record of 64-for-64 with the St. Louis Rams]. Gostkowski also went 21 for 24 on field goals to finish with 137 points on the season, the third-highest total of any player that year (rookie Green Bay kicker Mason Crosby had 141, and Patriots receiver Randy Moss had 138).
Gostkowski also had the distinction, in the Week 13 game against the Baltimore Ravens, of kicking off from the Ravens' 35-yard line as the result of two unsportsmanlike conduct penalties on Ravens linebacker Bart Scott and an offside call on the Ravens defense on his PAT attempt. Gostkowski recorded a touchback on the kickoff, but there was confusion after the game as to whether or not the Patriots could have improved their field position by kicking the ball out-of-bounds instead.
Gostkowski only had two field goal attempts in the postseason, both in the divisional game against the Jacksonville; Gostkowski converted one, but missed the other, his only failed postseason conversion. He was, however, perfect on his PAT attempts, going 9-for-9.
Gostkowski was a key contributor in the Patriots' 19–10 win over the New York Jets in Week 2, the game that marked Matt Cassel's debut as a starter. Gostkowski kicked 4 of 4 field goals from 21, 37, 28, and 27 yards, and recorded touchbacks on the first five of his six kickoffs (the last kick was returned to the 20 before a Raymond Ventrone tackle).
In October, Gostkowski, after going 9-for-10 on field goals and 11-for-11 on PATs for a team-high 38 points, was named AFC Special Teams Player of the Month for the first time in his career.
In Week 16, Gostkowski had the highest-scoring game of his NFL career, converting 4 of 4 field goals, and 5 of 5 PATs. The 17-point performance gave him a total of 34 field goals on the season, breaking Tony Franklin's 1986 franchise record of 32, and 141 points scored, tying Vinatieri's post-merger franchise record, with one game still to play. (Former wide receiver/kicker Gino Cappelletti scored 155 points for the Patriots in 1964, and 147 points in 1961, but those include 44 and 56 points on receptions.) Gostkowski finished the season with a league-leading 148 points, the 13th-highest single-season total in NFL history; his 36 field goals converted is the sixth-best total, and the most since Neil Rackers made 40 in 2005.
In December 2008 Gostkowski was selected for his first Pro Bowl appearance as the AFC kicker; his selection was the result of the players' and coaches' votes, as he did not finish in the top five in fan voting. The Associated Press also voted him to the All-Pro First Team for the first time; he received 28 of the 50 votes for kicker.
Notes and referencesEdit
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