MIAMI (CBS4) – Playing in the National Football League is a dream few humans get to see and feel in real life.
Former Cardinal Gibbons High School football placekicker Blair Walsh not only saw and felt the dream, he kicked right into the bright lights, big crowds and, to his surprise, the freezing temperatures of Minnesota.
“I walked outside with a t-shirt,” Blair remembers. ‘It was literally the most painful thing I’ve felt in my upper body ever.”
The Minnesota Vikings drafted Walsh from the University of Georgia in the sixth round of the 2012 NFL Draft. They gambled on a rookie kicker. It was an unorthodox move, but a decision that paid off in a big way.
At age 23, Walsh broke NFL records including most consecutive field goals from 50 yards. He earned Pro Bowl and All-Pro honors. With such great success in the first year of his NFL career, how could Walsh possibly improve next season?
“You erase it,” he said. “You erase all that you’ve done last year. It doesn’t matter at this point.”
To find out what truly matters, Walsh headed back to what he knows, his roots in South Florida.
“Nothing is going to go to his head,” said Cardinal Gibbons Chiefs Head Coach Mike Morrill. “I think he knows that he needs to continue to work hard.”
Morrill coached Walsh at Cardinal Gibbons High School.
“I don’t think I’d be anywhere I am today without Coach Morrill, that’s for sure,” Walsh said.
In high school, Walsh initially played soccer. A former Chief’s placekicker said he should give football a try.
“He had me come out and try field goal kicking and instantly fell in love with it,” Walsh recalled.
“The sound that the ball makes off of Blair’s foot is just different,” said Morrill.
Declyn Rodriguez is a current placekicker for the Chiefs. He carefully studied Walsh as he knocked in several field goals from 50-yards on the new Cardinal Gibbons’ football field.
“His form is perfect every time,” he said. “It’s the same thing every time. Head down, not looking up, see the kick.”
Blair had success immediately after switching from soccer to football in high school. But it was not painless.
“We were playing St. Thomas, it was the first game of the year,” Coach Morrill said. “Blair took off on a fake punt and he ran toward our sideline, I think he gained about 20 yards. And that’s when he got leveled.”
Walsh was hit out of bounds and suffered a concussion.
“My mom still can’t watch it,” Walsh said.
The team earned 15-yards for a penalty and a few plays later, Walsh kicked a 40-yard field goal to take the lead.
From a Chief to a Bulldog, Walsh kicked his way to a scholarship at the University of Georgia. Despite a less-than-sterling season his senior year, scouts arrived, Walsh delivered and the doors to the NFL were unlocked.
Walsh learned about NFL pressure in his very first game.
“I had to hit a 55-yarder to tie the game,” he remembers. “I was like, okay, I guess they’re just throwing me into the fire here to see if I could do it or not.”
Not only did Walsh make the field goal, he would continue his successful season with the Vikings all the way to the playoffs. But despite such great success in very little time, Walsh doesn’t forget how he got here.
On and off the field he makes it count. He’s a volunteer at a hospice center in Boca Raton. As a Viking, Walsh volunteers with organizations like Toys for Tots, Wounded Warrior Project and others.
“I had such a great respect for what they do and all that they stand for so i just wanted to get involved,” he said.
As young players watch the NFL draft board, some dreaming, some waiting for their names to be called, Walsh is proof that hard work pays off.
“He’ll prove to the guys, his head’s not in the clouds,” Coach Morrill said. “It’s where it needs to be.”