Danes Kicker Ethan Stark Learned From The Best: Clearly It’s Paying Off
The saying goes: to be the best, you have to learn from the best.
University at Albany placekicker/punter Ethan Stark is no exception.
The redshirt senior was a Bears fan growing up. Fourteen-year NFL veteran and current 49ers kicker Robbie Gould, who spent 11 seasons in Chicago and is the franchise’s all-time leading scorer, is a family friend and taught him how to kick.
They’ve even done some charity golf events together and still stay in touch.
The lessons have paid off so far. Through UAlbany’s first five games, Stark has been practically perfect.
He’s 8-for-9 on field goal attempts, and the only PAT he’s missed was a blocked kick this past weekend against William & Mary.
At 6-foot-3, 218 lbs., he’s hard to “miss” too.
And just like any great NFL kicker, he doesn’t get fazed by the pressure either.
“I don’t really think about much,” Stark said. “…Just try to clear my mind, have one clear thought and put it through.”
Learning from Gould, the next logical step: play on an NFL field.
UAlbany opened up the season against Pittsburgh at Heinz Field, also the home of the Pittsburgh Steelers. “It was pretty cool. Playing in an NFL stadium and all those people in the stands,” the Erie, Penn., native said.
Two weeks later, he’d have another “pretty cool” moment — a career-long 51-yard field goal vs. Morgan State in the home opener. That kick was the encore for what he describes as the longest field goal he’s ever made, a 58-yarder in training camp over the summer.
“That was the furthest one with a snap,” Stark said. “I was excited!”
You’d be hard pressed to find someone who raves about Stark more than his head coach, Greg Gattuso.
Now in his fifth year with the Great Danes, he actually recruited Stark back when he was a coach at Maryland. “Great kid, great student, and great football player,” Gattuso said. “We’re gonna miss him when the time comes. He makes things really easy.”
Watching kickers in big spots now, Stark is able to see where a player may have gone right or wrong on a kick.
He stresses the importance of the where the hip is pointing. If the right hip points right, so does the ball. His position also gives him more sympathy for others in the same line of work.
In the NFL, for every Graham Gano 63-yard game-winning field goal as time expires, there’s the flip side – like Green Bay Packers kicker Mason Crosby missing four field goals and an extra point in their 31-23 loss to the Lions last week.
“It’s a tough job,” Stark explained. “It’s one of those things where if you do your job well, nobody really talks about it. If you do your job bad, everyone knows.”
UAlbany (2-3) plays back-to-back home games vs. Richmond and Towson the next two weeks. The Danes fell to Richmond 41-38 in a double overtime thriller last season.
Instead of Stark, it was Spiders kicker Griffin Trau who played hero, nailing the 34-yard game-winner. After that heartbreaker, UAlbany would go on to lose four of its last five to end the season.
The Purple and Gold are hoping the result will be different this time around, but for Stark, his pregame routine remains the same.
He likes to do the same drills before each game but he’s never been very superstitious.
“Nothing crazy,” Stark reassured. “I’m not one of those guys who has to put the same shoe on first or something like that.”
To put it simply: so far, so good.