LOS ANGELES -- When USC freshman kicker Chase McGrath trotted onto the field hoping to send Saturday’s game against Texas into overtime, he did so as the owner of zero made field goals in his short college career.
McGrath insists his nerves didn’t come into play as he calmly nailed the 31-yard kick. Not then, and not when he won the game -- and potentially saved the season -- for USC a short time later with a 43-yard field goal in the second overtime.
“They were both the same kick to me,” he said. “I treat every kick the same.”
That sounds good, in theory, but few college kickers have the poise to step into that situation before more than 80,000 people and execute the way he did. Let alone a walk-on who seemed destined to be the third-string kicker less than a year ago.
Following his senior year at famed Mater Dei High in Southern California, McGrath was unsure about his college plans.
At that point, there wasn’t an opportunity to play football at the next level that truly enticed him. Army offered a scholarship, and Virginia, Texas Tech and Utah State wanted him to walk on, but they weren’t what he was looking for.
Then his dream school called.
Going into a meeting with USC special-teams coach John Baxter, McGrath had his mind made up. He talked with his dad beforehand and decided if an offer to join the team came -- to walk on or otherwise -- he would immediately accept.
So when Baxter told McGrath the Trojans wanted him to walk on, he did just that.
“I’ve always been a USC fan growing up,” McGrath said.
It was an easy call.
But when McGrath committed, the Trojans already were in good shape at kicker. Matt Boermeester, who kicked the winning field goal in the Rose Bowl on Jan. 2, would be returning for his senior year, and another incoming freshman, Michael Brown, would be on scholarship. McGrath was the insurance policy.
As it turned out, a valuable one.
Boermeester was expelled from school after USC’s Title IX office determined he was involved in a domestic violence incident with his girlfriend, a USC tennis player. That left Brown and McGrath to compete for the starting job during training camp.
“I was coming in to compete,” McGrath said. “I wanted to perform to the best of my ability and show the coaches what I could do.”
It took until the final week of camp for McGrath to win the job, but even then it was conditional based on his performance. Against Stanford on Sept. 9, Brown tore his ACL, which meant that for better or worse, McGrath was locked in as the starter for the season before even attempting a field goal.
He missed his first attempt, a 46-yarder in the first half against Texas, but bounced back in about as memorable a way as possible.
As for a scholarship?
“I need to find one. I can tell you that,” USC coach Clay Helton said. “What a valiant effort by him [Saturday] in two clutch situations.”