EARTH CITY, Mo. -- Like most of the United States, Zach Hocker was sitting on a couch Friday afternoon eating leftover turkey and watching football.
As the Missouri Tigers took on Hocker's Arkansas Razorbacks, Hocker got a phone call from a 314 area code at about 4 p.m. ET. On the other end of the line was an opportunity to stop watching football and start playing it again.
The call came from the St. Louis Rams, who had watched as kicker Greg Zuerlein suffered a right groin injury in their Friday practice. In need of some reinforcements, the Rams scanned their emergency lists and landed on Hocker, who was not only one of the best kickers available but also came with a distinct geographic advantage of being within driving distance of St. Louis.
Hocker was at his fiance's parents' house in tiny Rison, Arkansas, a town he estimates has a population right in the range of a thousand people. Without blinking, Hocker hopped in his truck and headed to St. Louis to step in for Zuerlein.
"It was a crazy time but that’s how the NFL is," Hocker said. "When a guy goes down, there’s not typically kickers on practice squad or backups on the team so they’ve got to yank somebody off the couch. That’s exactly where I was at."
Hocker wasn't there long. He arrived in St. Louis on Friday night and was able to step in to participate in the team's walk-through on Saturday before the Rams traveled to Cincinnati to play the Bengals. While place kicking might not seem it, there are plenty of mechanical issues that have to be worked out whenever something changes in the process.
"I treated it just like any other walk-through day if I was on the team prior to this weekend," Hocker said. "Of course it was a little new for me because everything has a different process but the guys have been nothing but awesome to me as far as getting used to the system coming from New Orleans. It’s been a hectic couple of days but it’s been fun."
For a kicker, a lot of it has to do with timing between snapper, holder and kicker. Rams special teams coach John Fassel did his best to get Hocker up to speed during that lone walk-through.
"Saturday walk-through we had time to just time up his approach," coach Jeff Fisher said. "You have to go through all those what if situations and scenarios. We did that Saturday."
In less than 24 hours, Hocker was on a team plane bound for Ohio. It was a whirlwind journey for a player who already in 2015 had been waived by the Miami Dolphins, signed with New Orleans, won the Saints' starting job and was released after going 9-of-13 on field goal attempts in the first six weeks.
Such is the life of a player with one of the only jobs in the NFL that has results judged easily based on statistics. Now, Hocker is getting another chance at the NFL, at least until Zuerlein returns. In his first game last week, he made his lone extra point try and was solid on kickoffs.
"It’s a blessing," Hocker said. "Any time I get the chance to be on the field, I’m not going to take it for granted. It’s a shame it happened to Greg but he’ll be back before long and I’m just happy to be here to fill in for him."
The Rams are hopeful that Zuerlein will be able to return to practice late this week but Hocker is going to stick around at least until the Rams get a better idea of Zuerlein's return to health. That should allow Hocker to get some more reps with snapper Jake McQuaide and holder Johnny Hekker.
"Yeah, that’s always something that you want down pat is a chemistry and a rhythm with the snapper and holder," Hocker said. "These guys did a great job. It was just like we’d been working together for a long, long time. So there were no issues there through pregame and during practice. We had a good rhythm going and as long as I’m here I’m hoping we can carry that over."
The better Hocker can carry it over, the better his chances of getting another call on his couch after Zuerlein returns.