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PSU in the NFL

Gould sets Penn State record for NFL games played

Kicker Robbie Gould established Penn State history today by appearing in his 236th NFL game, the most ever by a Nittany Lion product.

Gould kicked an extra point in the San Francisco 49ers’ game against the Arizona Cardinals to extend his NFL run to 236 games. He began his pro career in 2005.

The record had been held for many years by former PSU kicker Matt Bahr, who appeared in 235 NFL games from 1979-95.

Gould, 38, was born in Jersey Shore, Pa. and went to Central Mountain High School. Oddly enough, he did not have a great career kicking the ball at Penn State. He made just 39-of-61 field goal attempts for the Lions, good for just 63.9 percent.

But Gould has gone on to have a remarkably consistent NFL career, entering play Saturday having made 400 out of 460 FG attempts, good for 87 percent.

However, Gould did not have a good day Saturday. He missed two FG attempts and one PAT, but the 49ers still beat the Cardinals, 20-12.

Thanks to Zak Young for pointing out Gould’s record.

Further reading on Gould’s career …

This is an extensive profile I wrote about Gould for the Altoona Mirror in 2007 after visiting his hometown of Lock Haven leading up to the Chicago Bears’ Super Bowl XLI appearance against the Indianapolis Colts.

LOCK HAVEN — This little town is so proud of its big star.

A week from today, Robbie Gould and his teammates on Da Bears will do the Super Bowl shuffle in Miami against the Indianapolis Colts. The same kid who grew up here, earned the community’s respect through his work ethic and excelled in everything he tried will be on the world’s biggest sports stage.

Gould, the prototypical All-American kid, now finds himself living the American dream. As he does, his friends and family back home are living the moment vicariously through him.

“Everybody’s talking about it,” Lock Haven Mayor Rick Vilello said. “It’s amazing.”

“It’s unbelievable that somebody from this community is in the Super Bowl,” local businessman Louie Anastos said.

The game could come down to the 24-year-old Gould, who didn’t even take up football until his sophomore year in high school.

No one could have known back then, or during his career at Penn State, that Gould (pronounced GOLD) would become one of the NFL’s best kickers in only his first full season. He made 26 field goals in a row for the Bears, earned All-Pro and Pro Bowl recognition and moved his team into the NFC Championship Game with an overtime field goal against Seattle.

Now he’s in the Super Bowl, where the pressure will be enormous. Those who know Gould best, though, say that won’t be a factor for him.

“The more pressure that kid’s under, the better he is,” Gould family friend Jim Russo said.

The people of Lock Haven and neighboring Mill Hall, combined population of 10,700, make Gould sound too good to be true.

His story, going from small-town kid to the Super Bowl, certainly is the stuff that dreams are made of.

Dad taught him well

Gould’s father, also named Robbie, was a three-time All-American soccer player at Lock Haven University who led his team to a Division II national championship. The elder Gould said his son was a “phenomenal soccer player” growing up and that he could have played at the Division I level.

Robbie wasn’t interested in football until his younger brother, Chris, went out for the sport in seventh grade. The boys and their dad would practice kicking before school, piquing Robbie’s interest and leading him to join the team at the old Lock Haven High School as a sophomore.

Gould worked to become a reliable kicker for Central Mountain High School, which formed after the merger of Lock Haven and Bald Eagle Nittany school districts.

“He had a lot of natural ability, and he worked very hard,” said Mike Packer, Gould’s coach at Central Mountain. “He would work before school started with his dad; they’d have 20-25 footballs and they’d come kick.”

Gould excelled in other sports, too, lettering in basketball and track along with soccer.

“You’re talking about a kid who not just plays those sports, but makes an impact in each of those sports,” said Central Mountain Assistant Principal Steve Turchetta, who coached Gould in basketball.

Gould also excelled in the classroom. His high school trigonometry teacher, Ben Hagen, called him an ideal student-athlete who felt disappointed if he didn’t do his best.

“The kids said to me today, ‘What made him different?'” Hagen said of his current students. “I told them, ‘He worked for everything he got.'”

PSU ups and downs

Gould had his mind set on playing for Penn State and asked his principal, Norm Palovcsik, to write a letter of recommendation to Joe Paterno. Palovcsik, a former Nittany Lion wrestler, tried to talk Gould into going to a smaller school.

“I said, ‘Are you sure you want to go to Penn State? You’d probably do better if you went to’ … and I started suggesting a couple other places,” Palovcsik said. “He was really persistent.”

Palovcsik wrote to Paterno, and the coach responded two weeks later with a letter thanking the principal for trying to help one of his students. Paterno offered Gould a chance to be a walk-on, and he made the most of that chance.

“He came here a pretty good kicker,” said former PSU assistant coach Fran Ganter, who worked with the field goal unit. “The thing that maybe made him a little different than most was what a good athlete he was.”

Gould took over the Lions’ starting placekicking duties midway through his freshman season and never relinquished them.
He finished fifth on PSU’s career scoring list (232 points), but Gould had his share of troubles in Happy Valley. He made only 39-of-61 field goals (64 percent) and played on the Lion teams that finished 3-9 and 4-7 his final two seasons.

“When he was struggling, our whole team was struggling,” Ganter said. “He wasn’t the problem, he was just one of many problems we were having at those times.”

Penn State doesn’t have a designated special teams coach like many major programs, but Gould’s father didn’t put much blame on that.

“Joe’s philosophy is just kick the ball,” he said.

Gould’s mother, Cheryl, couldn’t help but shake her head yes, however, when asked if the lack of special teams direction hurt her son’s performance.

“Robbie had like six holders when he was there,” she said. “It just kept changing. Before the Purdue game, they warmed up with a holder and snapper, and when game time came, they used a different holder.”

Getting his shot

The best thing that happened in Gould’s career was signing as an undrafted free agent with the New England Patriots in 2005. He didn’t make the team, but he got to work alongside star kicker Adam Vinatieri.

“That was the idea — to go [to New England], learn from the best, take it and go,” Robbie’s father said.

Vinatieri helped Gould work on his technique and also gave the young kicker some comforting praise. (Ironically, the two now will square off against each other in the Super Bowl.)

“The coaches and Adam were telling him, ‘You’re good enough for the NFL, you’ll play in the NFL,” Cheryl Gould said.

It wasn’t easy, though. Gould signed with the Baltimore Ravens and spent a few weeks on their practice squad before getting cut. He then went back home to Lock Haven to wait for another opportunity.

Gould also needed a job in the meantime, so he called his friend Russo, co-owner of M&R Contracting in Mill Hall. Gould had done an internship there in college, “doing odds and ends and grunt work,” said Russo, whose two daughters were coached in soccer by Gould’s father.

Russo took Gould out in the field for a day, then realized his new employee has a business degree and would be better off working in the office as a purchasing agent.

“He came in here, and it was like he knew me his whole life,” M&R employee Shawn Callahan said.

Gould is friendly like that with everyone, said Sheila Russo, Jim’s wife.

The M&R gig didn’t last long for Gould, who was there only two days before the Bears called and invited him to a tryout.

Gould flew to Chicago the next day, won a roster spot and took over the starting job when injured veteran Doug Brien was released the next week.

Gould made 21-of-27 field goals in 2005, and this season he became one of the game’s elite kickers by drilling 32-of-36 tries.

Local hero

Gould is the talk of the town back home. His high school is honoring him with signs and jerseys hanging on the wall, and there’s even a banner on Main Street that reads: Congratulations and good luck to Lock Haven’s Robbie Gould #9.

“We would like to thank everybody for all the support and all the kind things they have done for Robbie,” Gould’s father said. “This is a good thing for Robbie, but it’s also a great thing for this community. It shows if you work real hard, you can achieve your goal.”

No one from Lock Haven has ever achieved this kind of sports success. Gould is the first player from the city to make an active NFL roster, and several town elders believe he’s the first local athlete ever to reach the top level in any sport.

“Coming from a small town, Robbie wants the young people to realize you can work hard and accomplish your dreams,” his mother said.

The only sports dream Gould can possibly have left is winning the Super Bowl.

Before the question was even finished, his high school football coach abruptly answered when asked: If the game does come down to a Gould kick, will he make it?

“No question,” Packer said. “He’s kicking with more confidence than I’ve ever seen him.”

If he does make the kick to win the Super Bowl, Robbie Gould instantly will become an NFL legend. At that moment, back in Lock Haven …

“I think the town will definitely go wild,” Sheila Russo said.

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