This is the third NFL training camp for Todd France but it's the first time he's kicked in a preseason game. The former Springfield High and University of Toledo kicker played for the Rhein Fire in Europe.
ANN HEISENFELT / AP Enlarge
from blade staff, wire services
ALBANY, N.Y. - It wasn't too long ago that Todd France was evaluating his life and wondering whether it was time to end his dream of being an NFL kicker.
When the 24-year-old former Springfield High School and University of Toledo kicker listed the pros and cons, the negatives outweighed the positives.
He was still living at home. He was driving a 13-year-old Cutlass Supreme and his first two NFL training camps ended without even getting a chance to attempt a field goal in a preseason game.
France had spent more time building houses for Habitat for Humanity and working part time at UT's College of Engineering than he had in an actual game.
France is second in UT career scoring with 337 points (1998-2001) behind running back Chester Taylor (366). He's also second in career field goals with 59, behind Rusty Hanna (68).
Coming to training camp with the New York Giants last month didn't seem to offer him much hope. Two-time incumbent Matt Bryant was returning along with veteran free agent Bill Gramatica.
France's luck changed though.
Bryant was waived before the first practice, and then Gramatica twisted his back last week in a freak accident while simulating a ball-stripping drill.
That left France to kick against the Carolina Panthers on Thursday night, and he turned out to be one of the few legitimate highlights for the Giants in a 27-20 loss. On his very first NFL kick, he blasted a 51-yard field goal.
He also booted a 42-yarder, and he averaged 63 yards on his kickoffs.
"There is still a lot of work to do," said France, who sticks out among teammates because he rides a bike to lunch everyday while they arrive in luxury cars. "There is no way I can say I will make the team at this point."
He might now be leading the competition though.
Coach Tom Coughlin was excited by France's performance. On the first field goal attempt, the new coach looked giddy on the sidelines after the ball split the uprights.
"What I was really impressed with was the way he handled it and looked at the opportunity and tried to take full advantage of it," Coughlin said. "There were no real missed hits, we got under a couple of kickoffs and didn't get them down the field as far as I would have liked, but I thought he handled himself well in that situation."
France didn't get that chance the past two years in the Minnesota Vikings' training camp. His only field goal attempts in that period came in Europe with the Rhein Fire, where he made 4-of-8 attempts, including a 53-yarder, which counts for four points in NFL-Europe.
At Toledo, his longest kick was 55 yards.
"I really wanted to go to Europe, not so much for the football aspect, but a free vacation in Europe," France said. "I told myself I'll give it one more shot. If I don't make it by a little, I'll give it one more year. If don't make it by a lot, I'll just give it up."
Aaron Elling beat out France for the Vikings' job last year, but France felt he kicked well to give himself that extra chance.
France knows he needs to be consistent to win the job. He was a 70 percent field goal kicker in college (56-of-81), and that's not great by NFL standards.
"There were times a couple of weeks ago where I could not have made a high school team," France said. "Wind conditions sometimes are a problem and sometimes I just stink."
Gramatica has made 34-of-45 field goal attempts in an injury-plagued career.
His rookie season ended after 13 games when he ripped apart his knee jumping to celebrate a field goal against the Giants. He missed most of last season with a back injury, which is not related to his current injury.
Gramatica hopes to get back on the field next week.
"It's good to see someone succeed but at the same time, it's tough," Gramatica said of France's performance.
France has an interesting future planned after sports. He intends to go back to school for a master's in mechanical engineering.
It's a career though, he would not mind putting on hold.
"I can do that when I'm 60 years old," he said. "I can't kick when I'm 60."
He is adamant that if he does not make a team this year, he will call it a career.
"People always say, you should give it five years, six years," he said. "There are guys in my position doing this and they're 30 or 31 years old and have never made a team, and they can't really carry on with the rest of what they want to do with life besides kick a football between two uprights. I figure I don't have anything to lose."
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