Sacramento State junior Brad Cornish had attempted four field goals, making three, in his previous two seasons as an unsung kicker with the Hornets.
The San Diego-area resident surpassed that total in one afternoon last Saturday in helping Sac State defeat Weber State 42-31 in the Hornets’ home opener.
Cornish made a school-record five field goals, including a career-best 48-yarder on his first attempt, to earn Big Sky Conference and Football Championship Subdivision Special Teams Player of the Week honors.
Never in his career – dating to when he first started kicking a football as a junior in high school – had Cornish had a bigger day. He’s been the talk of the Sac State campus this week.
“It’s the life of a kicker,” Cornish said. “You don’t know going into a game how much action you are going to get. But I watch these college and pro games all the time just wishing I could get three or four cracks in a game.”
Cornish got five. He didn’t miss on any, even though all were longer than his previous college career best of 25 yards.
The 48-yarder – 5 yards longer than his previous career best set in high school – came less than three minutes into the game. He added a 43-yarder in the first quarter, a 45-yarder in the third quarter and 32- and 40-yarders in the fourth.
He put nine of his 10 kickoffs into the end zone and had five touchbacks. For good measure, he made a tackle on one of the returns that left him with a giant red welt on his left (kicking) knee.
He also made his first three extra points before his fourth was blocked, the only blemish on his otherwise career day. It was his first miss in 25 career extra-point attempts dating to last season.
“We’re very, very proud of him because he works extremely hard,” said Sac State coach Jody Sears. “We knew he was capable of a great game. But we’re going to stay on him. We’re not going to let him rest on his laurels.”
Cornish admits he had to contain his glee during the game and is still acclimating to being the center of attention, rare for a kicker.
“I’d rather have our team scoring seven points than three – I’m really not that selfish,” said Cornish, who started his Sac State career as a walk-on but is on a partial athletic scholarship this season. “But I was really trying to keep my emotions under wraps. … This week has been a huge steppingstone. I’m glad I earned the coaches’ trust.”
Most of Cornish’s career at Sac State has been spent as a kickoff specialist because of the strong leg he honed playing soccer growing up. Though he has a field goal-best of 58 yards in practice, his only other field-goal attempt this season was a 56-yarder that was blocked late in the second quarter at Incarnate Word.
Cornish didn’t take over the place-kicking duties until late last season after Jesse Aguilar, now a senior, struggled. Cornish made three of four field goals and was 12 of 12 on extra points.
But Aguilar had the stronger spring, so it appeared as if Cornish might move back to his role as a kickoff specialist entering the fall.
That was before a breakthrough summer.
Cornish was able to hook up with a group of professional and college kickers who worked out at a high school in Solana Beach. Among those offering advice and encouragement were former Tampa Bay kicker Michael Husted and current Cleveland Browns kicker Billy Cundiff.
“Those guys really reached out to me,” Cornish said. “They told me I’ve got a shot at being successful at this if I keep working at it.”
He keeps one of Cundiff’s motivational emails as a backdrop on his cellphone that includes the line: “Prepare yourself for greatness.”
Fred Kelley, the Hornets’ second-year tight ends and special-teams coach and a former Sac State player, noticed marked improvement, too, during fall practice. Cornish’s quickness in getting his foot to the ball – something that held him back in previous seasons – was now a strong point.
“Before, it took him a little while to unwind,” Kelley said. “It made him more susceptible to having his kicks blocked.”
It helps that backup redshirt freshman quarterback Daniel Kniffin, who took over kick-holding duties this season, had experience holding for a left-footed kicker at Rocklin High School.
Cornish also credits junior long snapper Josh Latham and the offensive line for giving him the ability to produce headline-making results.
“There’s a lot that goes into a successful kick,” Cornish said.
Training is a huge part.
Cornish rolls out of bed at 5:15 a.m. in preparation for morning practice. He, Aguilar and freshman Devon Medeiros usually start their drills a half-hour before the team begins practice at 7 a.m.
“The kickers have their own schedule, but Brad’s kind of like another coach on the field,” Kelley said. “That really helps me since I also coach tight ends.”
At 6-foot-3, 210 pounds, Cornish looks more like a wide receiver than a kicker. While he has only had to make five tackles during his college career, he’s a regular in defensive drills that emphasize tackling fundamentals.
On Tuesday, Cornish walked around the Broad Center sports training complex in shorts with a wounded knee from his Weber State tackle that looked every bit like a red badge of courage.
That was all the better to fend off his teammates’ good-natured ribbing about whether he qualifies as a football player.
“Some guys are just kickers and some guys are football players, and he’s definitely a football player,” Kelley said.