North Texas Daily

Club soccer features former Florida State football champion

Club soccer features former Florida State football champion

October 29
01:50 2015

Alex Lessard | Staff Writer


Believe it or not, there is a North Texas athlete that boasts an NCAA national championship ring in football.

Business junior Clay Pickler earned his national championship ring as the backup kicker of the 2013 Florida State University football team. The Seminoles were flooded with talent, going undefeated thanks to future NFL stars Kelvin Benjamin, Devonta Freeman and 2013 Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston. The program set a modern-day record with 29 NFL draft picks in the past three years.

“Everyone that was there had that confidence about them that they knew they were there for a reason,” Pickler said. “Everybody always competed. It was a very cohesive team, especially that year.”

Football wasn’t always in Pickler’s future. He had played soccer since he was four years old but didn’t learn the art of kicking a football until his senior year of high school.

While at a club soccer tournament, Pickler and his parents were introduced to Scott Blanton, a professional kicking instructor and former NFL kicker. Pickler was always interested in dipping into the sport, so the opportunity was hard to pass up.

“Right away I was pretty good at it, and [Blanton] wanted to work with me,” Pickler said. “Usually he only takes kickers in middle school and freshman year of high school, so he has time to work with them and take them through his process.”

Pickler’s natural kicking strength helped him learn extremely quickly, practicing three to four times a week over the next year to perfect his game. Once he and Blanton compiled a highlight video and sent it off to universities around the country, the fish began to bite.

Florida State was the first school to reach out, and Pickler never looked back. After taking the fall semester off, Pickler was off to Tallahassee to take classes in the spring of 2013. But when special teams coach and recruiter Eddie Gran took an offer to coach at a different school, Pickler wasn’t sure if he still had a spot on the team.

Once he proved himself in camp, Pickler earned a role as a backup behind then-freshman Roberto Aguayo, now widely considered the No. 1 kicking prospect in the nation. Before the season, Aguayo told Pickler he wanted to win the national championship and the Lou Groza award, the most prestigious kicking accolade in college football.

Those expectations became a reality, as Aguayo went 94-for-94 on extra points and missed only one of 22 field goals all season.

“To hear him say that in the spring and actually watch him do it during the year, it was pretty unbelievable to have that happen in front of your own eyes,” Pickler said.

Cutline: Business junior and former Florida State football team kicker Clay Pickler poses with his three championship rings. Steven James | Staff Videographer

Cutline: Business junior and former Florida State football kicker Clay Pickler poses with his three championship rings. Steven James | Staff Videographer

With each week came a larger margin of victory, allowing Pickler to see game action as a kickoff specialist in four different games. Just two years after learning the basics of kicking, Pickler had finally made his vision a reality.

After each win, the team received more and more national media attention. Once they reached the BCS National Championship game, the media frenzy was at an all-time high.

“To be a part of that and watch it all unfold not only online but on national television, and to have it be about the people right next to me, I had never experienced anything like that before,” Pickler said.

Once the season ended, Pickler decided sitting behind Aguayo for the remainder of his career wasn’t ideal. In hopes of becoming a starter at a smaller school, Pickler transferred to Southeast Missouri State University, where his brother, Griffin Pickler, had received a scholarship to play quarterback.

Although Clay won a kicking competition in camp over teammate Ryan McCrum, both were given one half of play in the season opener. After that, he was never seen on the football field again.

“It was very frustrating being there, especially after being on an undefeated team with top-notch facilities,” Pickler said. “I gave up everything I worked for to go to a smaller school, only to be screwed over.”

Griffin was also forced to take a backseat as a backup all season, but he still enjoyed having Clay there as support for his first year as a college student.

“It was nice to have someone in your family that’s really close to you when you’re that far away from home,” Griffin said. “It really helps you stay grounded and not change too much.”

The brothers find themselves back in Denton for school this semester, deciding a return close to their Grapevine home was the best decision for both of them. Griffin plans on continuing his football career, but Clay decided to return to the sport he’s always loved.

As a member of the North Texas men’s soccer club, Clay is now an integral part of his team’s success instead of only stepping onto the field a couple plays per game.

“It was more of a learning curve for him, transitioning from different sports,” club soccer captain Rafael Dominguez said. “He’s done well, improved well, and has been a physical target up top for us.”

Now that the Picklers have come back home, Clay’s enjoyed a looser schedule, giving him more time to focus on classes and finish his degree.

“I wanted to come back and be closer to home, graduate school and play soccer,” Clay said. “I felt like North Texas was an easy choice.”

Featured Image: Pickler joined club soccer this year after transferring from Southeast Missouri State, where he attended right after Florida State. Steven James | Staff Videographer

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