Turning trick shots into a scholarship

First-year kicker finds success after recruitment through Youtube video

Through four games, kicker Nick Liberatore has hit 9 of 11 field goals, including this 34-yard attempt against Toronto.
Through four games, kicker Nick Liberatore has hit 9 of 11 field goals, including this 34-yard attempt against Toronto.

Across a running stream of water, over a bridge, and swiftly into a trunk isn’t detailing a fugitive’s tracks — it’s the improbable story of how Gaels’ football kicker Nick Liberatore put himself on the map and secured an athletic scholarship. 

To be fair, he didn’t actually do any of these things. What he did do, however, was kick a football across a stream of water, over a bridge, and into a trunk.

In a last-ditch effort to get noticed by college recruiters, Liberatore, along with the help of his friends, put together a highlight tape showcasing his repertoire of trick shots and impressive long-range kicks. The video shows him kick a ball into a basketball hoop, a garbage bin, and even hitting a field goal from 60 yards out — just four yards off an NFL record. 

Just two years into beginning his football career at his local high school in Dartmouth, NS, Liberatore found himself in a predicament most recruits don’t: he didn’t have any game film. 

Liberatore gained his idea from Norwegian kicker Håvard Rugland — a placekicker who garnered notoriety through his trick-shot videos which subsequently gained him a roster spot on the NFL’s Detroit Lions. 

“So I just kind of thought ‘what’s the worst that can happen?’” 

Liberatore’s high school didn’t provide athletes with game film — a custom in many secondary schools across Canada tend to — and he saw the tape as a creative way to separate himself from other kickers in the country. 

Understandably, in a tireless effort to hit his targets, the process became repetitive and rather mundane, but it never felt like a chore — it was refreshing to be doing something unique and different, Liberatore said. 

“There were some [shots] that took a couple of hours, and we definitely had to be pretty creative,” he said. “My friends were there so we saw it as just hanging out instead of something that we had to do.” 

Nearly a year since the video first aired on YouTube, it’s certainly safe to say it was anything but hanging out. 

In an interview with CTV News over the summer, Hayden Redden, Liberatore’s close friend who filmed and edited the video, said he couldn’t believe the attention the video attracted.  What had started out as a mere favour for a friend ultimately became a gateway for Liberatore’s football career. 

Liberatore emailed the video to several CIS programs, and, after months of anticipation, received a response from Gaels’ head coach Pat Sheahan, who said that the kicker’s “little advertisement” caught his eye.

“We’ve always looked for a guy that can do it all, a guy who does the punting, kicking, and can do the kickoffs. He looked like he had the potential to do all of them,” Sheahan told reporters at CBC News, Nova Scotia.

Before committing to the Gaels, the freshman was in contact with schools in the Maritimes — closer to his hometown. 

When he received an academic and athletic scholarship offer from St. Mary’s in Nova Scotia — Queen’s limited its offer to athletic — he understood its significance. An academic scholarship presents benefits the athletic simply doesn’t. The grade point threshold to be admitted and remain enrolled is considerably lower, which in turn makes it easier to sustain financial assistance in regards to tuition.

But coming to Queen’s, he said, was something he couldn’t turn down. 

“The biggest selling point was my mom when she said ‘could you imagine ever turning down an offer from Queen’s?’” 

While kicks in a video can be done over and over again until they look good, it’s different from in-game situations. Well into the 2016 CIS season, Liberatore has made the transition look easy. 

Through four games, his 9-for-11 field goal ratio is among the best in the OUA — he’s ranked fourth in field goal percentage at 82 per cent.  

Taking it game-by-game is a steady approach to his first season, Liberatore said, but, like the Norwegian kicker who paved his way onto an NFL roster, he isn’t setting his goals short. 

“Being a professional athlete has always been my dream.”

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