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USC's Andre Heidari kicks it back up a few notches

Junior sets a career best with four field goals in the Trojans' 19-3 victory over Utah one week after a poor performance at Notre Dame that nearly sent him to the bench.

October 26, 2013|Helene Elliott

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Sometimes, being strong means acknowledging a weakness.

USC kicker Andre Heidari said last week he was in a kicking funk after missing two field-goal tries in the Trojans' loss at Notre Dame, a significant admission from a player whose mental toughness and kicking accuracy as a freshman All-American had marked him as special. And he had little time to straighten himself out: Interim Coach Ed Orgeron put the kicking job up for grabs Monday, no longer able to accept squandered scoring opportunities while the Trojans offense continues to sputter.

Heidari, a junior, accepted the challenge as Orgeron had hoped he would — with fierce determination to make things right.

Heidari, who also missed two field-goal tries in the Trojans' loss to Washington State, said he turned the corner and regained a comfortable motion when he took extra kicks after practice Thursday. He reaffirmed his belief Saturday by kicking a career-best four field goals in USC's 19-3 victory over Utah at the Coliseum, which kept the Trojans (5-3) in contention for a bowl invitation.

"I feel redemption," Heidari said after kicking field goals of 35 38, 28 and 40 yards, "so it's a good feeling."

Heidari made a 22-yard field goal in the second quarter Oct. 19 to give the Trojans a 10-7 lead over Notre Dame, but missed a 40-yard attempt on the previous possession and missed a 46-yard try with about 10 minutes left in the fourth quarter. After that second miss, USC went for the first down in fourth-and-long situations, unwilling to trust him again.

The competition among Heidari, sophomore Alex Wood and redshirt junior Craig McMahon was tightly monitored by associate head coach John Baxter. Heidari came close to losing his job.

"Very close," said Orgeron, who went over Baxter's charts and notes Thursday and Friday before meeting with the kickers Friday to deliver the decision.

"They were very good about it. Actually, in some situations they almost tied, so we just gave it to the guy that had been in, to give him another shot," Orgeron said. "We were ready to put in another kicker if he didn't make it, but he responded great."

Heidari had to test his physical resilience last season when he had knee surgery. He had to test his mental resilience the last week because the sting of losing to Notre Dame stayed with him.

"Probably until we were walking into the stadium today," he said Saturday. "Tough loss. I don't take losses very well. And I know I could have done something about it."

Baxter recalled being impressed by Heidari displaying similar competitiveness at Stockdale High in Bakersfield.

"When we recruited him we were in a situation where we had to recruit a player that had to come in and play as a freshman. There was no other plan in place," Baxter said. "The thing that stood out in the recruiting process of him, coming to our camps and those things, was his mental toughness, his ability to compete. He is an extremely mentally tough player, and you saw that today.

"Those are really gratifying situations as a coach, when you watch a player who's faced some adversity, whether it's real or perceived. Whether it is or isn't, it's put on him from the outside, and he handles it."

Heidari missed a fifth attempt, from 37 yards, in the third quarter, but Baxter called it "a good, quality hit, a straight rotation." By then, Heidari had proved his point to himself and to his teammates.

"Andre is money," quarterback Cody Kessler said. "He's a great kicker and unfortunately he missed some kicks last week. But he is one of the best kickers in the nation, in my opinion, and I've seen him when he's on.

"He just has to not let stuff get in his head and sometimes he has trouble doing that, but when he's focused and he's locked in and he kicks, he's spot-on every time. We have 100% confidence in him."

Still, Baxter said, the competition will continue.

"It's always there," Baxter said. "But you know, you never want to hold it over a guy's head or something else, because that's not the right way to support a player, either."

Heidari, who said he was unaware he had set a career mark, downplayed his success Saturday.

"I was lost in my swing pattern and I just had to find it. I found it," he said. "But we'll see where it goes from here."

And where USC goes with him.

Twitter: @helenenothelen

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