Suisham's Footwork Pays Off
Saturday, August 25, 2007
Shaun Suisham seems, at first, to be an unlikely candidate to be the place kicker who will give the Washington Redskins some long sought-after stability at that position. The affable Canadian, after all, is essentially a self-taught kicker who has been cut more times than he can remember and used to dream of being a professional in an entirely different sport.
But Suisham has a strong leg and earned his shot at the job with a solid performance during the final five games of the 2006 season. He converted 8 of 9 field goals, including a career-long 52-yarder in St. Louis that sent the game into overtime.
"I've had quite a path to get here," Suisham said. "I absolutely never envisioned myself playing in the NFL, let alone being a kicker in the NFL. . . . I would've loved to have been a defenseman in the NHL. But this is the path that I've been given, and I'm sure happy to be here."
Both the Redskins and Suisham are trying to find some continuity. Suisham is the eighth kicker that long snapper Ethan Albright has worked with in his seven years with Washington. That kind of revolving door puts pressure on a team, particularly on the two men who work closest with the kicker, the long snapper and the holder. It takes time to figure out a kicker's preferences.
Suisham, Albright and holder Derrick Frost have been able to establish some consistency, because they've been practicing together since the final month of last season. For nearly all of training camp, Suisham was the only kicker on the roster.
"It's nice to have the chemistry between all three of us," Albright said. "It takes working together to get it right so you're comfortable with it. Because you don't want kickers worrying about anything but making the kick."
Suisham played hockey and soccer while growing up in southern Ontario, and only tried football because his uncle, Rob MacLachlan, was the coach at his high school. Kicking was an afterthought, something that came naturally to Suisham because of his soccer background and something that he didn't spend much time practicing because he played other positions.
His team played by CFL rules, which meant plenty of field goal opportunities; during his final season, Suisham blasted field goals of 52, 57 and 58 yards. His uncle and his parents put together videos of him making those long kicks, and sent them to colleges in the United States. Suisham wound up with a scholarship to Bowling Green.
But Suisham's American football career had a rocky beginning. He enrolled at Bowling Green in January 2000 -- he had to leave his hockey team in the middle of its season, which was hard -- and on the first day of spring practice, he tore his right quadriceps while kicking. He eventually set several kicking records for the Falcons. He made an NCAA-record 226 PATs (out of 233 attempts).
"To say that I ever pictured myself -- even up to my first couple years in college -- I never would've thought that I would've continued on kicking," Suisham said. "And then it kind of built from thinking about the CFL. . . . and thinking maybe I can kick in Canada to thinking maybe I can kick in the NFL."
Suisham was invited to Pittsburgh's training camp in 2005 -- "that was kind of a thrill," he said -- and from that moment on, he felt he belonged in the NFL and his ambition slowly grew. It was no longer good enough just to be invited to camp; he wanted to make a team, appear in a game and convert a kick.
He joined Dallas's practice squad after being released by Pittsburgh, and over the next five months, the Cowboys cut and signed him twice. For two weeks in October, in between being cut on the 11th and signed on the 24th, Suisham stayed at a budget hotel in Irving, Tex., and continued to practice at a local park. He had just one ball, which meant a lot of chasing.
But it was worth it when he converted two field goals and four extra points in his NFL debut, against Arizona on Oct. 30, 2005. He appeared in five more games for the Cowboys until he was released on Oct. 17, 2006. The Redskins picked him up in early December.
"It was an emotional rollercoaster the first two years," Suisham said. "Every once in a while, you'd feel the harsh reality of the NFL and you'd kind of have to start over again. But through that I feel like I'm in a better spot because of it."
Said Albright: "When you come from a realistic beginning, it keeps you level-headed. Maybe that's why he's such a likable guy."
Now Suisham is trying to find some consistency, both in his performance and in his career. He has one of the strongest legs that Albright, who has been with four teams in his 13-year NFL career, has seen. But having a strong leg doesn't necessarily translate into having sustained success in the NFL.
"He's developing consistency, and he's getting to the point where [when he misses] he can tell what he did," Albright said. "Some young guys can't do that. They're like, 'I missed. What happened?' But he can study the film now and see, 'Oh, I've got to keep my shoulder in there and follow through,' or whatever it is that causes a miss. He can identify that. That's the sign of somebody that's going to be around for a while."