The term “kicker” has a negative connotation for most football players.
Usually, the kicker is easily identifiable because he is punier than his teammates, looking more like somebody who should be fetching water than competing on the gridiron. Kickers have a reputation for standing around on the sidelines, working harder on their tan line than anything else, while the “real” players sweat through grueling two-a-days.
Former USC and current Dallas Cowboys kicker David Buehler is not like most kickers. Not only is he in good shape for a kicker, but his athletic prowess has put some of football’s most physically imposing position players to shame.
Buehler’s performance at the 2009 NFL Combine, where scouts put players through physical tests prior to the NFL Draft, cannot be described as anything less than legendary. At the kickers’ lifting station, Buehler shocked scouts by putting up 25 reps on the bench press at 225 pounds, besting every single cornerback prospect, offensive tackle Michael Oher (a first-round pick and the subject of the movie The Blind Side), and former USC teammate and linebacker Rey Maualuga. He also ran an impressive 4.56 40-yard dash, which was better than the times for former USC teammates and linebackers Brian Cushing and Clay Matthews.
“I prepared for [the NFL Combine] like a job interview,” Buehler said after a training camp practice with the Cowboys in Oxnard, Calif. “My body was in the best shape it ever was, and I wanted to go out and show the scouts and NFL teams what I could do.”
The Cowboys took notice, and used a fifth-round selection to get Buehler, despite already having a Pro Bowl kicker in Nick Folk.
When Buehler signed with the Cowboys, he wanted to prove to his coaches and teammates that he was more than just a kicker. In training camp, he challenged defensive back DeAngelo Smith to a 50-yard dash — and won. This gave Buehler instant credibility with his new teammates.
“Is he on steroids?” Cowboys wide receiver Roy Williams asked, laughing.
In 2009, his rookie season, the Cowboys’ coaching staff thought enough of Buehler to use him as an athlete on special teams. There Buehler excelled, making three tackles.
“I got some respect. Playing special teams last year gave me an opportunity to show my teammates what I can do,” Buehler said. “I challenged DeAngelo to that race last year and beat him, so they know that I am competitive and a fiery guy, so I hope they have a little bit of respect from doing all that stuff.”
With Folk still in the fold, the Cowboys primarily had Buehler handle kickoffs last season. His booming leg was an asset for the team. He led the NFL with 29 touchbacks, which forces the opposing team to start the possession on the 20-yard line.
This season, Buehler earned the field goal kicker position. He has made 11 of 15 field goal attempts, with a long of 51 yards, and 21 of 22 extra-point attempts.
“My confidence is higher than it has ever been,” Buehler said. “I feel like I transitioned night and day from where I was last year.”
Off the field, Buehler is a quirky guy. He refuses to step on blue handicap paint, and when he cooks food in the microwave, he always sets the timer with seven as the last digit.
“He is a good teammate,” Cowboys running back Felix Jones said. “He can surprise us sometimes. He is a really funny guy to be around.”
Buehler almost always has a mischievous grin on his face, a trait that he shares with the late Trojan kicker Mario Danelo, who died in 2007 after falling off a San Pedro cliff.
“I am living the dream. Mario Danelo once said it, ‘Living the dream.’ That is how I truly feel,” Buehler said. “He meant a lot to me. He was a good mentor to me, and he taught me a lot about the mental aspect of kicking, and a lot of other things. He was always happy, and always had a smile on his face. He was never down.”
While at USC, Buehler started ahead of Joe Houston, the Trojans’ kicker this season.
“Joe is a great kicker,” Buehler said. “I have learned a lot from Joe, and we learned a lot from each other … He is one of my good friends, and I enjoy watching him on Saturdays.”
As the starting placekicker for the Cowboys, Buehler has focused more on making long field goals than big tackles, but his aggressive mindset is still there.
“I have to keep myself poised and calm during games, and I cannot get too fired up,” Buehler said. “I have adopted that kicker’s mentality, but if somebody gets loose, I will be sure to light them up.”