OXFORD, Miss. – Gary Wunderlich’s philosophy all year has been to stay focused and not think about anything but the current field goal he is about to attempt. Such was the Ole Miss kicker’s mindset when he stepped onto the field for a 39-yarder that would ultimately be the deciding factor against then-No. 8 Texas A&M.
Wunderlich’s preparation – kicking the football through the net on the sideline – worked as he connected on the winning field goal with 37 seconds left in the game to propel Ole Miss (5-5, 2-4 Southeastern Conference) over the Aggies 29-28 on Saturday night.
For his efforts in the game, Wunderlich was named SEC Special Teams Player of the Week on Monday.
Usually before a game-winning drive or kick, coaches and teammates like to gather around the players who will be involved in the play and offer advice or share some encouraging words. But Wunderlich is not one who wants a lot of people around him when he is getting into attack mode before stepping onto the field for a punt, field goal or extra point attempt.
In fact, the junior prefers to be alone.
“Some people try to come up and talk to me, but I don’t really like anybody talking to me, honestly,” said Wunderlich, who went 3 for 3 on field goals against Texas A&M. “I just keep to myself.”
Wunderlich always treats every kick the same, but before last Saturday night against the Aggies, he had never been placed in a situation where he had to be the hero and kick a game-winner. For the first time, and in front of 104, 892 people inside Kyle Field who were watching him make the biggest kick of his collegiate career, Wunderlich had butterflies in his stomach–but not until after the football came off his kicking foot.
For a moment, he wasn’t sure if he had a solid release off the football to put it between the two goal posts.
“I was very nervous when I first saw it come off my foot. But when I saw it hook back in, I was relieved.”
Gary Wunderlich on game-winner against A&M
Wunderlich is among the nation’s elite
With a 2016 season that has not gone the way Rebels expected, combined with numerous injuries on both sides of the ball, Wunderlich’s stellar season has been somewhat overshadowed. After the junior’s three field goals and two extra point attempts against Texas A&M (7-3, 4-3), he moved into third place in school history in career points scored (252) and career field goals made (44).
The Lou Groza Award semifinalist has been literally almost perfect for the season, converting on 19 of 20 field goals for a .950 field goal percentage that leads the SEC and ranks third in FBS. Earlier this season against then-No. 15 Auburn, Wunderlich connected on a career-long 49 yard field goal. His only miss has come from 55 yards out.
Despite his success, Wunderlich is quick to thank his supporting cast for the season he’s having.
“Like I said a couple of weeks ago, it’s been great,” Wunderlich said about snap/hold execution. “(Will) Gleeson holding has been awesome and the guys up front blocking, we couldn’t get it done without them. I think they’re overlooked but I think they’ve done a great job.”
Auburn’s kicker Daniel Carlson
Junior kicker Daniel Carlson has been having a solid year just like Wunderlich, converting on 20 of 22 field goals for the Tigers with his longest coming from 53 yards. Carlson is averaging two field goals per game, which ranks third in FBS. As for Wunderlich, he doesn’t mind sharing the limelight with Carlson.
“It doesn’t bother me,” he said. “He’s a great kicker and a good guy too. I’m glad to see him do well.”
(Feature image credit: Dan Anderson, The Rebel Walk)