Greg Zuerlein preparing for NFL draft

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NFL Scouts will get a chance to evaluate kicker Greg Zuerlein at his pro day on March 23.  He’s already put in the leg work with an outstanding senior season, now it’s just up to a team to draft him in one of seven rounds of the 2012 NFL draft on April 26.

Zuerlein throws the ball before the Northwest Missouri game at Spratt Stadium. Griffons won 31-28. Photo by Jason Brown

In his one season at Western, Zuerlein hit an unprecedented 9-for-9 field goals from over 50 yards, including two 58-yard field goals. He led the nation in fields goals per game with 2.6 and the MIAA in scoring with 10.6 points per game. The strong-legged kicker was a First-Team NCAA All-American.

“It’s just his natural ability,” said Jay White, Western special teams coach. “He’s not a big guy, he’s just a lean guy. His initial leg swing is quick and gets the ball up right away compared to someone that’s a lot bigger. The ball just jumps off his leg, and it’s gone.”

According to Mel Kiper Jr., ESPN NFL Draft expert for 24 years, Zuerlein is the top-ranked kicker in the entire draft.

“You haven’t seen Zuerlein, but he banged home 21 straight field goals this year and showed off range out to 60 yards. He looks like a good one,” Kiper said.

The only unanswered question is how Zuerlein will perform under the pressure that comes with having to hit game-deciding or sometimes season-deciding field goals in front of NFL crowds. The attendance record at Spratt Stadium is 10,727, while 105,121 people crammed into Dallas Stadium to watch the Cowboys in ’09. White has no doubt in his mind that Zuerlein has the mental makeup to succeed under the most pressure-filled situations.

“Hands down, I would say he’s a professional,” White said. “Every kick is a pressure kick with him, and he wants to make everything, and he’s shown that this year with us.”

Zuerlein spent three years at Nebraska-Omaha, where he was an all-American before sustaining a hip injury that forced him to take a medical redshirt during the 2010 season.

UNO closed down its football program and went Division I in all of its remaining sports. Zuerlein had offers from Nebraska, UCLA, Clemson, Oklahoma State, Kansas and Minnesota to play his senior season before the NCAA denied him eligibility due to the five year rule at the Division I level, according to the World-Herald. Division II does not have a set amount of time for eligibility.

After coming to Western, Zuerlein hit new career highs in every statistical category and bounced back from the injury, kicking longer and more accurate than he ever had before.  He was selected to the East-West shrine game featuring the best seniors in college football and made his only field goal attempt, a 35-yarder.

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