Senior Pat Smith was jubilant after twice kicking the game-winning field goal.
By Randy York
Of the 26 Nebraska seniors who will be honored Friday on Senior Day at Memorial Stadium, two are walk-ons who won Husker MVP Awards for their latest contributions in NU’s 23-20 escape at Penn State last Saturday. For Ron Kellogg III, a 6-1, 220 -pound senior walk-on quarterback from Omaha Westside, it was another case of shock in his pinch-hitting role running the Husker offense. For Pat Smith, a 5-11, 185-pound senior kicker from West Quincy Ill., (and Western Illinois), it was a true case of awe. After kicking Nebraska’s game-tying and game-winning field goals on a cold and windy day in University Park, Smith joined Nebraska’s third-team quarterback as the newest names who have carved their way into the Huskers’ rich walk-on folklore.
Kellogg received Nebraska’s Offensive MVP Award following coaches’ film study of the Penn State game. Stanley Jean-Baptiste, a 6-3, 220-pound senior from Miami (and Fort Scott, Kan., Community College) was named the Huskers’ Defensive MVP. While sharing coverage with fellow senior Ciante Evans on Penn State All-America receiver Allen Robinson, Jean-Baptiste made two solo tackles, had one assist and broke up two passes. Smith joined three teammates who shared Nebraska’s Special Teams’ MVP Award – Kenny Bell, a 6-1, 185-pound junior from Boulder, Colo.; Sam Foltz, a 6-1, 200-pound redshirt freshman punter/wide receiver from Grand Island, Neb.; and Gabe Miller, a 6-0, 235-pound freshman long snapper from Mishawaka, Ind. Bell’s 99-yard touchdown on a late third-quarter kickoff return changed the game’s momentum, and Foltz, another MVP walk-on, had the best punting performance of his young career – eight punts for a 46-yard average and four punts that pinned Penn State inside its own 20-yard line. Miller was clockwork perfect in his deep snaps for Smith’s kicks and Foltz’s booming punts.
Kellogg has won or shared four Offensive MVP honors this season for his performances against South Dakota State, Purdue, Northwestern and Penn State. “I think the beautiful thing about Ron is he’s the ultimate team guy,” Nebraska Coach Bo Pelini said Monday. “He has tremendous energy. He has a great attitude. In this day and age, he is a tremendous team guy. Obviously, he’s always wanted to play. He’s always helping the younger guys. He’s done everything he can with whatever role we’ve asked him to do. He’s helped move this team forward. There’s a lot to be said for that. He’s a pretty special guy.” Kellogg replaced injured starter Tommy Armstrong Jr. and completed 20 of 34 passes for 191 yards and two touchdowns at Penn State.
Smith’s Clutch Performance Earns Big Ten Honor
Smith, the Big Ten Conference Special Teams Player of the Week, kicked three field goals and two extra points at crucial junctures in a tight game. In the final five minutes, he made his original 37-yard field goal attempt and then drilled the game winner from 42 to end the game in overtime after Nebraska was assessed a five-yard penalty on his previous kick. Smith also kicked a 39-yard field goal with 1:11 left in the third quarter and a 19-yard field goal with 4:29 left in regulation to tie the score at 20-20. “I’m really happy for Pat,” Pelini said. “It’s not easy to do what he did. To make that decision to come in (as a senior walk-on) and compete for a job, it’s not easy … that (Saturday night) was a tremendous moment that he’ll remember for a long, long time.”
Talk about two pivotal long shot possibilities last August. Asked Monday what he would say about the odds of being Nebraska’s starting quarterback for Friday’s Senior Day, Kellogg said: “I would have told you that you were a liar. I probably wouldn’t have believed you because Taylor (Martinez) was almost invincible. I would have just assumed that he would start the entire season.”
Smith’s odds of becoming Nebraska’s kicker weren’t far-fetched. He never would have come to Nebraska if he didn’t think he had a chance to play as a walk-on graduate student. “To get the opportunity to come to Nebraska and kick the winning field goal in overtime in Happy Valley, I don’t know what else a kicker could want,” Smith told me Monday afternoon. “I haven’t been here as long, but I’m just as thrilled as Ron Kellogg. It’s kind of an unspoken bond to be a walk-on. You go through life to put something you have on the line and it’s fun to become a part of Nebraska’s success in the Big Ten.”
Kellogg Will Do What It Takes to Help Team Win
Kellogg and Smith have elevated their expectations after fighting their respective ways onto the field and into the thick of the action. “I’m not as fast as some people would want me to be, but I don’t care as long as I’m getting a first down or positive yards. That’s a-okay in my book,” Kellogg said. “Even after the hit against Penn State, I’m still probably going to run the football. I know everyone was scared, including my mom, but that’s not going to deter me from seeking success for the offense. I know how to slide, but I broke my ankle sliding so I don’t slide like that anymore. I slide head-first now. I might have to change that up, too.”
As the quarterback who replaced a still injured Armstrong, who remains doubtful to play against Iowa Friday, Kellogg knows his composure is paramount. “I’m not saying I won’t have any emotions,” he said. “I’ve seen some of the toughest people, like Alfonzo Dennard and Lavonte David, say that weren’t going to cry and then they come back into the locker room crying. I’m going to try to be composed and set all of the emotions aside because we still have a game we have to play. We want to get our ninth win, so I’ll try my best to compose myself.”
After listening to some of the blockers on Nebraska’s field goal team at Monday’s press conference, Smith might consider changing his middle name to composure. When a penalty was called on his first game-winning field goal, he was reassuring his teammates in the huddle before the second kick instead of the other way around. He told his teammates that he’d hit the next one, too, because moments like Saturday’s are what all kickers dream about. “I paid my way to come here and I live by myself,” he said. “That was my dream, and I knew that second kick would be even better than the first one.” And it was.
Texts, Twitter, Email Blow up in Smith’s Face
By the time he made his way back to the locker room Saturday night, Smith’s phone had 100 new text messages. At the airport 90 minutes later, he had so many emails clogging his phone, he decided to shut it off, so he could celebrate with his teammates. What about Twitter? “It was completely blown up,” he said. “I can’t keep up with it. This is a short week and we have to take care of business.”
Kellogg said he “felt like I got in a car accident” at Penn State. “With the treatment from the training staff, I feel just fine now,” he added. “It’s like I didn’t even play on Saturday, so I’m all good for Friday.” Kellogg said he’ll remember and cherish Friday’s Senior Day for a lifetime. “I’ll brag about it to my kids,” he said. “Other than that, it just shows that whether you’re a walk-on or scholarship guy, if you work hard and put forth the time and effort to understand the schemes on offense or defense, it’s up to you whether you want to play or not. I easily could have taken a different route and either left or quit playing football, but it’s something I love to do and have a passion for … there are a lot of memories, whether I played or not, that I’ll take with me.”
Smith has seen and experienced enough of Nebraska to understand why there’s no place like it. “Our fans here are informed about the game as much as you can ever imagine anywhere else,” he said. “My parents have been to every game this year. I have two older brothers who would like to be here for Senior Day, but somebody has to run the family business. We own a Harley Davidson/Honda dealership in my hometown, so they’ll have to watch the game on television (which, by the way, covers 100 percent of the country on ABC).”
Taylor, Wynn, Bailey Win Scout Team MVP Awards
In addition to the game day MVP honorees, Nebraska also announced Monday the Scout Team MVPs for helping the Huskers prepare productively for Penn State. Adam Taylor, a 6-2, 210-pound freshman I-back from Katy, Texas, was named Offensive MVP. Richard Wynn Jr.,a 5-9, 180-pound sophomore wide receiver from Omaha Creighton Prep, received Defensive MVP, and Christian Bailey, a 5-11, 195-pound freshman wide receiver from San Clemente, Calif., was named Special Teams MVP.
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Great article about Kellogg and Smith and walk-on folklore. I live in California and really appreciate feeling connected to home through coverage like yours. Thanks to Facebook and my subscription to the BTN through Dish Network, it’s almost like being in Lincoln - without the cold weather! Thanks again. I really enjoy reading your articles. Barbara Rubin, Temecula, California