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USC kicker Andre Heidari is eager for his shot at glory

Andre Heidari had a very successful freshman season as USC's kicker, but he never got a chance to kick a game-winning field goal. Now that the Trojans are bowl-eligible again, Heidari says he's ready to deliver the big kicks.

August 20, 2012|By Andrew L. John

Kicking into a stationary net on the USC sideline, Andre Heidari mentally prepared himself for an opportunity that he had long been waiting for.

The Trojans and Stanford had entered a third overtime. The Coliseum was packed. Heidari wanted a shot at a game-winning field goal, a chance to finally play hero.

But Stanford scored and then forced a Trojans fumble, ending the game. And Heidari trotted off the field not knowing when his chance would come.

Heidari isn't naïve about the role of a kicker. A missed field-goal try in a big moment can cost a kicker his job. Putting the ball through the uprights in the closing seconds can immortalize a man.

Which is how Adam Vinatieri comes to mind. Heidari vividly recalls watching Vinatieri drill two game-winning field goals in the Super Bowl, for which he will forever be remembered.

"Growing up, I've always said I wanted to be like him," Heidari says. "I want to be in that spot one day, in his shoes with the game on the line."

This season, Heidari just may get his wish.

The Trojans enter the season ranked No.1 in the Associated Press poll and No. 3 in the USA Today coaches' poll. How Heidari performs in pressure-filled situations could be the difference between a title or bust season for USC.

Heidari is coming off a freshman campaign where he converted 15 of 17 field-goal attempts, all 50 extra-point tries, and was chosen first-team All-Pac-12 Conference.

With USC now eligible for the postseason after a two-year bowl ban, Heidari will be kicking with more on the line this season.

"Hopefully, this year I'll get my chance," Heidari says.

When Pete Carroll was head coach, the Trojans often relied on non-scholarship players to do the kicking, punting and long snapping. But when Kiffin was hired, he brought in John Baxter as his special-teams coordinator, and they decided they needed some high-caliber specialists to be the backbone of special-teams units during the years USC faced scholarship reductions.

Heidari was targeted and brought in along with long snapper Peter McBride and punter Kris Albarado in 2011, before NCAA-mandated scholarship cuts took place. USC had 10 fewer scholarships to offer than the NCAA maximum this year and will face the same situation for two more years. But its specialists are in place. Heidari has three years of eligibility remaining and the others, having redshirted last season, have four.

"You can't have any duds, because there are no backups," Baxter said. "And we feel we've been fortunate to get the guys we have, including Andre."

Heidari made an immediate impact, leading the Trojans in scoring and taking a lot of pressure off quarterback Matt Barkley and the offense.

With Heidari's reliability, USC attempted only half as many fourth-down conversions as it did in 2010 and was a good bet to get points when the offense stalled.

"It's comforting to know that if we have to resort to a field goal, it's pretty much automatic points," Barkley said. "Definitely a big security blanket for us."

Yet at USC, Heidari has never been thrust into a situation with the game on the line. The closest he came was on Oct. 29, that triple-overtime game against Stanford. He almost got a chance at the end of regulation when USC got to the Stanford 33-yard line, but time expired.

Heidari has had a taste of the spotlight. As a 16-year-old high school junior, he was asked to try a 61-yard field goal with his team down by two and seven seconds remaining.

His kick had the distance too but veered wide right. Heidari's heart ached for days. He responded by practicing his kicking hour after hour, hoping and praying for another chance.

And he's still waiting.

"I can tell you, he wants that moment. He wants the game-winner," punter Kyle Negrete said. "We talk about it every day."

Heidari returned this summer having hit the gym harder and cut sweets from his diet. He is now leaner and has improved his agility, flexibility and confidence.

Not that he takes himself too seriously, though.

Negrete, Heidari's roommate on trips a year ago, said Heidari is one of the most calm, composed guys he has ever played with — and a borderline goofball at times.

"Nothing shakes this guy," Negrete said.

One of the ways Heidari stays loose during practice is by occasionally tossing passes to his special-teams pals. He instructs them which route to run, falls back in a three-step drop, then fires off a pass, pretending he's throwing a game-winning touchdown.

When kicking against a rushing defense in practice, he conjures up a game-winning scenario in his mind.

It's a simulated sensation, nothing like the one he's waiting for. The real one. The one where he crushes the ball through the uprights in front of 85,000 and a nationally televised audience.

But it's all he can do while he waits.

"Hopefully, I'll get my chance," Heidari says. "And I'll be a hero."

Times staff writer Gary Klein contributed to this report.

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