The kicker on a football team seems the most solitary of positions – and the one with the most pressure, other than the quarterback. At moments it’s just the kicker, alone with the guy holding the football for the field goal – and the screaming crowd. In less than 30 seconds he’s a hero greeted by fans’ cheers and accolades in the press or, if he misses, he’s the guy who screwed up the game, the team’s record and the chance to get into the playoffs or win the Super Bowl.

The New Orleans Saints’ kicker Garrett Hartley has known these experiences and everything in between. In the 2009 NFC Championship Game against the Minnesota Vikings, Hartley completed a 40-yard field goal during the Saint’s first possession in overtime, sending the team to the Super Bowl. For the Super Bowl XLIV victory over the Indianapolis Colts, Hartley became the first kicker in Super Bowl history with three field goals made from 40-plus yards (46, 44 and 47). Seven months later, after an erratic start to the 2010 season, Hartley missed a 29-yard field goal in overtime against the Atlanta Falcons. The response – from fans, press and team – wasn’t positive. In response to the loss, Off the Record’s ( Micah Warren asked, “Think being an NFL kicker is fun? Help the team win it all one year and you are on the hot seat by Week 3 the following season.”

Since then, Hartley has been doing his best to prove them wrong.

After graduating from University of Oklahoma, he was signed as an undrafted free agent by the Denver Broncos in 2008 and joined the Saints a few months later. Hartley is a “soccer-style” kicker, as most are today. In this technique, the kicker approaches the ball from several steps to the left of it and kicks the ball with the instep of the foot. Popularized in the 1960s, this technique replaced the “straight-on” style, where the kicker approached the ball from straight behind and kicked the ball directly with the toe of the foot. Kickers (also referred to as placekickers) are usually responsible for scoring more  points than any other player on a team. The top 25 players in the NFL history in career scoring are all kickers. Hartley, in his three seasons, has drilled more than 85 percent of his field-goal attempts.

Rumor had it last September that the Saints might cut Hartley after a sluggish start. But Hartley has overcome previous bumps in his career, such as being placed on the reserve/suspended list in fall 2009 for taking Adderall, a banned stimulant. (Hartley said he took it to stay awake for a late-night drive from Dallas to New Orleans.)
As this season progresses, only Hartley will be able to direct his future – and, of course, to help lead the Saints to another Super Bowl.

How old were you when you started playing football? Seventh grade

What position did you start off playing in football? I was a running back and a linebacker.

How did you evolve into your current position? My dad didn’t want me to get hurt playing football so he said I could be the kicker. I told him that everyone was going to make fun of me. Also, when I was a freshman in high school I was playing varsity soccer.

I understand that it isn’t until you reach the pros that the decision of whether or not a player is designated a placekicker, punter or kickoff specialist. How did you focus on being a placekicker? This is all I did in college, so I was used to it.

What’s the biggest misunderstanding about placekickers? The joke is always the kicker is the different one on the team and that’s definitely not true in my case.

Describe a typical practice. Do you spend the whole day kicking? Or are there other training exercises you do? We usually begin with meetings in the morning, then I’ll go lift. Then we have practice. I don’t kick all day; I work for quality reps versus quantity. I then run after practice.

When kicking a field goal, do you take direction from the head coach or a combination of the quarterback and head coach? It’s more of a combination between Coach Sean Payton and me.

How do you block out (the sights and sounds of) the crowd during a game? I feel like I’m a horse with blinders on whenever I take my steps back preparing for a field goal. All I think about is what I have to do and I focus on the target behind the uprights.

What is your kicking style? Soccer-style; I’ve never attempted straight-on or barefoot.
What foot do you kick with? And can you kick with both feet? I’m right footed, and I can kick field goals as far as 45 yards with my left foot.

Do you have custom sneakers made? I definitely doctor my shoes up; I shave down the cleats and tuck away my laces on the side.

How many of them do you go through in a season? I go through about three to four pairs during a season.

What size foot? I wear a size 10 in tennis shoes, but my kicking shoe is a size 8.

How much does a pair cost? $180.

If not a kicker on the team, then what position would you play? Running back.

Do you have a lucky charm or any good luck rituals? I always put on my left shoe before my right; the chain I wear around my neck was blessed by the Pope; and I say a quick prayer before I go out onto the field.

What was your favorite moment as a player? I would say walking off the field as a Super Bowl Champion, and kicking the Saints into the Super Bowl at the NFC Championship game in 2009.

What is your least favorite moment as a player – or, if there was one play you could do again, what would it be? If I had a do-over, I would say the overtime kick last year (2010) during Atlanta.

Is there anyone that has inspired or mentored you?  My family: they always have told me and continue to tell me to be determined and to be strong-willed. In addition, (former Saints kicker) John Carney for being my mentor as a kicker in the NFL.

True Confession: I always enjoy painting and sketching.

Age: 25 Born/Raised: Keller, Texas Profession: Starting Kicker for the New Orleans Saints Resides: New Orleans Family: Bill (father), Cookie (mother) and Taylor (older brother) reside in east Texas. Danielle is my fiancé, and we have Gordo, an English bulldog, who is a descendent of Uga (University of Georgia’s mascot) and Drake, a Chihuahua. Education (High school/college): South Lake Trail High School in Southlake, Texas; bachelor’s degree in business marketing from the University of Oklahoma Favorite movie(s): Dumb & Dumber and anything with Will Ferrell.
Favorite music: Hip hop and R&B Favorite food: Italian Favorite restaurant: Ruth’s Chris, Impastato’s Hobby: Fishing, hunting and golf Favorite vacation spot: Destin, Fla.