Stan Lambert's first field goal attempt of the season was just the sort that tends to rankle him.
It was against Louisiana State, in front of a raucous crowd of more than 73,000 at Baton Rouge. Cal State Fullerton already trailed, 14-0, and Lambert, who never before had made his first attempt of a season, was called on to try a 41-yard field goal on a field that had been soaked by rain less than an hour before.
What's more, he had been troubled by a groin pull, and the attempt was from the right hash mark, an angle he hates.
He made it, which perhaps should have given him an inkling of things to come.
He went on to make three more--including a 49-yarder--in the first half of Fullerton's 56-12 loss, setting a school record for field goals in a game. The record of three had been held by several Titan kickers through the years.
Since then, he has made 4 more and is 8 of 8 for the season. His field goals haven't come at easy distances, either--all but two have been from 40 yards or beyond. He has made seven of seven extra-point attempts and leads the Pacific Coast Athletic Assn. in scoring with 31 points.
All this has left Lambert pleased, still a bit surprised, and prone to do a little pondering.
"When you're doing well, you don't know what to say," said Lambert, who had never made more than seven field goals in a season before. "I've been doing a lot of thinking: Why am I doing so well, and why haven't I missed? What will happen when I do miss?"
Oddly, Lambert has decided his groin injury--a hip flexor strain sustained on the first day of fall drills--may be the key to his success.
Because of it, he has had to diminish the amount of kicking he does in practice, from about 45 minutes to perhaps 10. Every kick has to count now, Lambert said.
"If a lineman did the same block for hours and hours, day in and day out, he would get bored and lose concentration. That's what would happen to a kicker if he kicked all the time. I used to be sort of lackadaisical, but basically, now when I do kick, I have all my concentration on it."
The injury is healing very slowly, but is unable to mend completely because of the repeated exertions of kicking. If he could take a few weeks off--not a probability until after the season--it would likely heal. Right now, though, he's too valuable to a team that has had some difficulty putting the ball in the end zone.
"It hurts when I stretch, it hurts when I warm up on the sidelines, it hurts when I kick off," said Lambert, who has had several cortisone injections to reduce inflammation. "But on the field goals--I guess it's the adrenaline--I don't feel it."
Lambert, a transfer from Long Beach City College, has been a more than pleasant addition at Fullerton.
"Of course, we always want to score, but if you can't get it in the end zone, the three points help," said Jerry Brown, Titan offensive coordinator. "Offensively speaking, we can be a little more daring knowing we have Stan. We get to the 35-yard line or so, we feel real confident."
By now, Lambert's perfect streak has begun, in some ways, to perpetuate itself.
"Any time you go out and start making them, you know you have it inside you. When it's hard is when you're wondering: Am I going to make it or miss it? How are my steps going to be?"
There hasn't been much to worry about lately, though, and Lambert has taken to setting goals. Right now, he's hoping to make 20 field goals this season.
As it is, he already feels like an important member of the team.
"Sometimes (other players) just treat you like a kicker until you prove yourself," Lambert said. "But even though I had friends on the team before, now people who wouldn't normally converse with me are coming up and saying, 'We're glad you're here.' "