Photos: Scott Reed
In the coming days and weeks Andrew Gantz hopes to answer questions about his future in the game of football. Friday, Gantz will kick for the Chicago Bears before returning closer to home to show the Cincinnati Bengals what he can do on Monday.
We caught up with the former Centerville (Ohio) high and college kicker about his journey and when he learned football was more business than most people see on Friday night or on a Saturday afternoon.
“Coming from Centerville, I played for one of the top football programs and coaches in Ron Ullery,” said Gantz. “I was taught early it was not all about fun and games as you’ve got to work as hard as you can to get what you’re going to get.
“We would be up at the high school every Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday in the summer at 4:45 each morning. We did some rigorous stuff as it was a high intensity program.”
At the start of his football career not many would have given Gantz a chance to kick in front of any NFL team let alone become a very successful kicker at the college level.
“I started transitioning from soccer to football during my sophomore year and we already had another kicker who had kicked and played football pretty much his whole life,” explained Gantz. I was put in the position to compete every day weather it was in the weight room, doing sprints or kicking in practice.
“During my sophomore year, I sustained an ACL injury playing cornerback, so I didn’t even get to play my first year. But I came back my junior year and handled all the kickoffs and punting. My senior year I added handling field goals. So, I could tell from that experience and from playing at a high-level high school, the game was more of a business. However, it was a lot more fun as there was a lot more comradery as you’re with your high school friends you’ve been with all of your life.”
Unlike other positions on the field, Gantz learned like the many specialists before him, scholarships are not handed out like those to quarterbacks, offensive linemen or others when you kick the football for a living. The lessons in recruiting played another role in setting the tone of learning to live with the highs and lows of the business side of the game.
“I think the biggest thing is that it doesn’t matter how good you are as a specialist,” he said. “Every year, the Top 15 kids in the country that are ranked as a kicker or punter should probably go on a full ride to a Division One school.
“However, there are only about 15-20 schools every year that need a kicker and they don’t offer every year. So, they may offer every three or four year when there is a need at the position. But there are some years when Power Five wise, maybe only seven school will offer a full ride.
“Coming out my senior year of high school, I was ranked sixth in the country by Chris Sailer Kicking. I went on the camp circuit and competed against guys like Daniel Carlson who is with the Raiders and Jake Elliott of the Eagles.
“I ended up ranked sixth and didn’t get a Division One offer until late by Utah. It’s not like quarterbacks or offensive linemen who are ranked sixth in the country and have over 20 scholarship offers. It’s a completely different ball game for specialists.
“I had originally committed to Tennessee as a preferred walk-on and turned down some scholarship offers because it was the Southeastern Conference and I thought that was what I wanted. Then some things fell through the cracks and I decommit and then had a choice to attend LSU, Ohio State or Cincinnati as a preferred walk-on. I chose to stay close to home and my family and picked Cincinnati.
“However, I learned it doesn’t matter if you’re a preferred walk-on or on scholarship when you’re a specialist. You’ve got to work your butt off for that job because there is only one of you on scholarship for that position. A quarterback can be the third string guy and stay on scholarship. A specialist doesn’t have that opportunity.”
What Gantz learned during his days as a Centerville Elk and from the recruiting process would prove valuable in helping him make the adjustment to the college game. However, he soon learned there would be others he’d meet along the way willing to help even when they were competing for the same job.
“You go to college and it’s a complete difference ball game,” continued Gantz. “I wasn’t even 18 when I arrived at Cincinnati. I was 17 years old when I left and came into a program that had Tony Milano in front of me. My freshman year, I could see as much as we’d have to compete against each other, Tony would also be a great mentor to me. He showed me how to handle the business side of things and how to show up for work every day.
“I’ll never forget this… He told me to shower before I walked into workouts every day and to make sure my hair was done before I showed up in the weight room. He stressed it showed you were ready to clock in and work. That was something I took to heart and it showed me it was not just about playing ball anymore.
“It was about showing up, punching in and putting in your work. Most people don’t understand it’s not a nine-hour work day. It’s a 24-hour work day because you’re taking care of your body when you’re eating, sleeping or seeing the trainer to try and prevent injuries. It’s a full fledge business 24-7 and as much as it’s a team game, it’s a very individual game on the side of things you’ve got to take care of. At the end of the day, you’ve got to make sure you stay in shape and are ready to play.”
When not working towards his goal of kicking in the NFL, Gantz can be found working with kickers and punters around the Midwest with his Game Winner Kicking program and as part of the Chris Sailer Kicking staff. He also is providing his knowledge in helping First Star Football Report give specialist their dues in our prospect rankings.