College Sports

Texas A&M kicker Josh Lambo, who grew up in Crystal Lake, hoping for shot at NFL

The ball jumped off Josh Lambo's right foot and tore through the Saturday night sky at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium.

As it split the uprights on Oct. 12, 2013, time expired. Lambo darted toward the sideline, slid across the turf in celebration and became awash in a swarm of his Texas A&M teammates.

The kick lifted the ninth-ranked Aggies to a 41-38 win over Ole Miss in the heart of SEC country, and silenced the sellout crowd of 60,950.

That night also marked among the first times had ever put on football pads.

Before Lambo drilled the 33-yard field goal in his second college start and before he later built an NFL résumé, he was simply a soccer player and his windy career path can be traced back to Crystal Lake.

Lambo was born in Lansing, Michigan, but in 1992, his family moved to the area. In Crystal Lake, he attended St. Thomas the Apostle School through the fifth grade and Hannah Beardsley Middle School.

Growing up, he found his way to the soccer fields, not football, and earned acclaim as a goalkeeper. He played for the Chicago Magic, a development academy then based in New Lenox.

In the summer before high school, his family moved to Middleton, Wisconsin. And as he excelled in soccer, he kept moving as a result, almost like a military brat. Not long after going across the state line, he left for Bradenton, Florida, to train with U.S. soccer’s U-17 national team.

He showed enough promise that in 2008, he was drafted eighth overall by FC Dallas of Major League Soccer. But three years later, his career hung in the balance after he was waived by the club. He received contract offers from other MLS teams, but he turned them down. None looked appealing.

Lambo turned the page on soccer. A newlywed, he started thinking college, a way to support a family. He held an associate degree after taking online classes through Collin College in Plano, Texas, but he wanted a four-year degree.

One way to get one? Through football — more specifically, through placekicking.

“I thought it was maybe an opportunity to get into a better school if I could be good at it,” Lambo said.

To get good at it, he reached out to former Wisconsin kicker Taylor Mehlhaff and asked if Mehlhaff could pass along some pointers. In March 2012, Lambo drove to New Orleans to learn from Mehlhaff, who was drafted in the sixth round in 2008 by the New Orleans Saints and kicked in the NFL for two seasons.

“Right off the bat, he started to catch on to things and started banging the ball pretty good,” Mehlhaff said.

Lambo’s transition to kicking a football centered on two primary adjustments to his approach.

He needed to kick the ball higher. “More up than out,” he said. And his strike point was moved higher up on a football, kicking toward the top of the longer ball.

“I hate to say it, but the soccer swing is almost like a lazy swing,” Mehlhaff said. “You’re always putting spin on the ball, or you’re kind of swinging it around. You’re always making a different kind of swing, whereas in football, you’re trying to hit the exact same straight kick every single time. You’re trying to get the ball to jump up as high as you can, as fast as you can.”

With Mehlhaff’s coaching, Lambo put together highlight reels and sent them to more than 30 schools.

One got back: Texas A&M. The Aggies’ wide receivers coach at the time was David Beaty, who was once a high school soccer coach. He liked what he saw on tape, and invited Lambo to walk on.

Though Lambo had played professional soccer, NCAA rules allow athletes to sign contracts in other sports and retain their eligibility for football so long as they don’t sign endorsement deals.

So the kid who grew up in Crystal Lake arrived in College Station that fall to play for the Aggies.

He sat his sophomore season, but started for the past two seasons in 2013 and 2014. He drilled 21 of 25 field goal attempts with a long of 50 and with ones like the game-winner against Ole Miss.

He hopes it’s enough to merit an NFL career as well.

“Things have kind of gone my way,” said Lambo, now 24. “I can’t not try if the opportunity is there.”

On Saturday in Carson, California, he’ll kick in the NFLPA Collegiate Bowl, a college all-star game with draft-eligible prospects.

Lambo has also been invited to next month’s NFL Combine in Indianapolis.

"That shows he's highly regarded by the teams," Mehlhaff said.

Typically just four to five kickers are invited.

Mehlhaff added that Lambo will need to show NFL teams that he can handle kickoffs, something he didn’t handle at Texas A&M, but considering how quickly he's picked up on everything to date, he isn't worried.

"The thing about Josh is that he's only scratched the surface of what he can do," Mehlhaff said. "If you think about it, he's only been kicking a football for two-and-a-half, three years now, so his upside is absolutely huge."

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