There was only one chance to get the perfect shot. The slightest error would set the script askew.
As the ball careened through the uprights, Tyler Fredrickson skidded to his knees as teammates and thousands of fans rushed onto the Memorial Stadium field to mob him. With a single swift kick, Fredrickson had ended USC’s hopes for a storybook season by toppling the Trojans in a 34-31 triple-overtime thriller.
The senior kicker had given Cal its first win against a top-five team in almost 30 years on that late September night in 2003, the last time the Golden Bears defeated USC. For the burgeoning filmmaker, the moment was fit for Hollywood and a fortuitous climax for an ongoing project.
Fredrickson took on the role of documentarian for the season with his movie Countdown to Kickoff, a 41-minute visual study in the preparation and execution integral to playing college football. But with the intoxication of the landmark win still lingering in the locker room after the USC game, Fredrickson forgot about his work until he bumped into one of his own cameramen.
“I told him that no matter what he couldn’t stop filming,” Fredrickson said. “But other than that one second, I was just enjoying the moment as a player.”
Six years later, Fredrickson’s flair for the dramatic has taken him to USC’s Peter Stark Producing Program, a two-year foray into nearly every element of the film industry. Only 25 graduate students are admitted per year into the group.
But the 28-year-old Fredrickson is the only member taking classes on a campus where he would have once been vilified for daring to cross the Trojans.
“Every so often people will recognize my name and remember that game,” Fredrickson said. “I think USC has won enough titles since then for the moment to have passed, even for the few people here who do remember me from that. But the game pops up on ESPN Classic every now and then, and we’re still talking about it now.“
Getting his kicks
Growing in Santa Barbara, Fredrickson dreamed of suiting up for UCLA.
His playing options out of high school were limited, however, leaving him with the choice to walk-on at Cal and join a team full of lightly recruited players like himself.
He eventually was tabbed as the starting punter and kicker for the Golden Bears, but he was as well known for being named a three-time Academic All-American as he was for his accomplishments on the field.
But his game-clinching kick against the Trojans put him squarely in the limelight.
USC had blocked Frederickson’s previous two kicks, including a routine 30-yard attempt in the first overtime that would have ensured victory for Cal. The kicker was dejected, thinking he had already frittered away his team’s chances before a missed field goal attempt by USC’s Ryan Killeen gave him another opportunity to close the game.
“There’s only so many opportunities you get against USC and if you don’t take advantage of them, it’ll be over,” Fredrickson said.
A quiet confidence washed over Fredrickson when he learned that he would have the chance to win the game.
“I looked him in the eye and he said, ‘Coach, let’s do it,’” Cal coach Jeff Tedford told reporters after the 2003 game.
Fredrickson ranked the kick against the Trojans as the second-most meaningful of his career behind the game-winning field goal of his final collegiate game against Virginia Tech in the Insight Bowl, the perfect exit stage left to his collegiate playing career.
When the chance to play in the NFL presented itself, Fredrickson pursued the unexpected career opportunity, bouncing around to new teams and cities over the course of four years. But there was little joy making a career by kicking professionally, a practice predicated upon precision and repetition.
“It was completely suffocating for me,” Fredrickson said.
The toll of playing professionally reached an apex when, last year, Fredrickson was set to join the Detroit Lions one week before his first Stark classes were scheduled to start. Not ready to give up the career he had become accustomed to, Fredrickson drove to the Los Angeles airport with his wife Jessica, ready to start the grueling process all over again.
But once he parked, Fredrickson could not convince himself to get out of the car.
“My wife was crying and I wasn’t going to put her through it all again,” Fredrickson said. “It was just the emotional exhaustion of it all for both of us. I could have been cut the next week and been right back at where I started.”
A new angle
An admitted “Star Wars nerd,” Fredrickson had a long-standing sense of wonder with movies as a child.
But it wasn’t until his parents’ divorce during his freshman year of high school that he immersed himself in the medium as a form of therapy.
“It became my way of dealing with the stuff I didn’t want to deal with,” Fredrickson said. “I could escape into a story.”
Fredrickson had little production experience beyond his master’s thesis documentary. But he connected with Andy Given, an adjunct professor for Stark and a former golfer at Cal, who helped guide him to the exclusive program.
Once there, Fredrickson learned how to channel the dedication he learned while playing football.
“As a college athlete, you have to be disciplined and organized. Tyler has shown he can be both of those things, and he’s very bright as well,” Given said.
The school has also given Fredrickson the creative outlet he sorely desired during his playing days.
“Being a producer allows you to be in control of all the little facets of the entire process,” Fredrickson said. “I like to guide somebody along the core idea and then see it fulfilled through the production, the post-production and the marketing.”
With a spring graduation from Stark looming, Fredrickson has turned his attention toward the professional world by interning with Sean Daniel, who most notably produced The Mummy franchise. Though the life of a production intern is hardly glamorous, Fredrickson has begun a process that he hopes will one day help him become a producer.
“He’s great at storytelling and that’s the essence of filmmaking,” Given said. “I’m not sure what he’ll do because it’s dependent upon what he wants and what doors open up to him.”
Though he is fully committed to the filmmaking world, football is still a part of Fredrickson’s life. He had planned to play for the Los Angeles Avengers of the Arena Football League while attending school this year, but after the AFL suspended operations indefinitely, Fredrickson said he considers himself “unofficially retired.”
Fredrickson said he missed the camaraderie and sense of accomplishment that his collegiate kicking career provided him, but he is looking forward to finding the same fulfillment in his new career.
“If the right playing opportunity came around, I might listen,” Fredrickson said. “But I really love what I’m doing right now and feel like that’s my future.”