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Gameday Online: Striving for Perfection

Posted Nov 1, 2011

From the Week 8 game program: Matt Prater has never missed a kick in the 4th quarter or overtime in his career. And after finding a home as the Broncos kicker, he expects nothing less than perfection from himself during the first three quarters as well.


Matt Prater knew securing a job as a kicker in the NFL would be challenging.

Nevertheless, upon leaving the University of Central Florida tied for the school record in field goals made, Prater sought out an opportunity to kick at the next level.

He signed as college free agent in Detroit in 2006. And was waived.

He signed a futures contract in Miami five months later. And was waived.

He signed with Atlanta shortly after that. And was waived again.

Prater then signed on to join Miami's practice squad towards the end of the 2007 season.

"I knew I'd bounce around," Prater said. "But maybe not as much as I did. It was pretty tough."

"My confidence definitely wavered a little bit."

NFL kickers are a select few. Thirty-two teams typically carry one on the roster, creating long odds for aspiring young kickers, and Prater quickly found out that teams are often resistant to change in the kicking game.

"Once a kicker gets in the league and they're consistent, teams don't want to make a change," Prater explained. "When you have a guy and you know what to expect with field goals, you stick with him."

But after spending just over a month on the Dolphins' practice squad, the Denver Broncos called, expressing interest in the raw kicker with a strong leg.

The Broncos signed Prater to the active roster and gave him kickoff responsibilities at the end of the 2007 season, while a potential Hall-of-Famer handled the place-kicking.

Learning From the Best

In college, Prater's technique was far from refined.

"I never had a real coach where I knew what I was doing," Prater said. "I used to just kick my hardest every time."

Once he entered the NFL, Prater received some actual instruction to go along with the powerful leg that got him there.

"I haven't seen too many guys that can kick as far as me," Prater said. "They say in baseball you can't teach someone to throw a 100 miles-per-hour fastball. You can't teach someone to kick a 60-yard field goal. But you can help with the accuracy.

"I think that's what (the Broncos) saw."

When he arrived in Denver, Prater worked alongside and learned from Jason Elam, who spent 15 seasons kicking for the Broncos.

Prater said he didn't know what to expect with Elam serving as the Broncos longtime kicker, but Elam signed with the Atlanta Falcons in the offseason, making the 2007 season his last in Denver.

Prater was left to compete for the job, and by the start of the 2008 season, it was his.

"Pretty much like trying to replace John Elway," Prater said of taking over after Elam's departure. "I was fortunate I got to learn from him."

"He ended up signing with Atlanta and I won the job and have been kicking here ever since."

Settling Into a Comfort Zone

When Elam gave his retirement speech in 2010, Prater sat and listened to his former teammate reflect on his career.

And suddenly, he heard his name mentioned.

"The Broncos -- they have an outstanding young kicker in Matt Prater," Elam said. "He's done an awesome job and I've been able to step back and just admire what he's been able to do and just appreciate the talent and the person that he is."

Prater was admittedly caught off guard by Elam's high praise.

"I couldn't believe it," Prater said. "My heart started beating a little bit."

That was a rare moment for Prater, who hardly ever notices his heart race when he takes the field with the Broncos. 

He's confident and relaxed, due in large part to the help of his fellow specialists.

Twelve-year veteran Lonie Paxton has been the Broncos long-snapper for the past three seasons and punter Britton Colquitt has served as Prater's holder for the past two.

"Lonie and Britton are the best in the business," Prater said. "Lonie has been doing it so long and has had so many clutch snaps. On the sideline, Britton and Lonie are the best guys to have around. Britton is more laid back and he keeps me relaxed. Lonie is a little more serious during the games and he's just real professional."

"I don't even have to think about the snap and hold," he added. "I know some kickers have to think about it, but I've never had to with Lonie and Britton. They're perfect with what they do."

With the help of Paxton and Colquitt, Prater is confident every time he takes the field.

"There isn't a field goal I shouldn't make when I go out there," Prater said.

Expecting Perfection

Earlier this season in Miami, Prater missed as many field goal attempts in one half as he did all of last season.

Two.

Prater missed a 49- and a 43-yard attempt as the Broncos trailed 15-0 with less than three minutes remaining. But after a quick score cut the lead Miami lead to eight, Prater executed a well-placed onside kick that was ultimately recovered by Denver tight end Virgil Green. Moments later, the Broncos found the end zone and converted the 2-point try to send the game to overtime.

Then the Broncos entered field-goal range.

D.J. Williams stripped the ball from Dolphins quarterback Matt Moore and recovered the fumble, positioning the Broncos offense in Miami territory.

From there, the Broncos called three straight runs, setting up Prater from the right hash mark.

He may have missed two earlier, but the Broncos' confidence in Prater never wavered.

Prater has yet to miss a fourth quarter or overtime field goal in his career - the only player in NFL history with that 100 percent success rate with at least six attempts. No one on the Denver sideline expected that to change.

"I was lucky the team gave me another chance," Prater said. "Everyone is going to screw up once in a while. You just don't want to screw up twice in one game, for a kicker especially. It was nice that they had confidence in me and I got a chance to redeem myself."

After a perfect snap from Paxton and a perfect hold from Colquitt, the kick flew through the uprights with plenty of distance to spare, sealing the overtime victory.

"We have a great kicker," cornerback Champ Bailey said. "And he did what he had to do."

A bit of redemption for a self-proclaimed perfectionist.

"Yeah, I'm kind of a perfectionist. I get pretty hard on myself." Prater said. "I was saying afterwards, this was my best worst game I've ever had. The only thing I could think about was the two that I missed."

"They expect me to come through and make the kicks," he added. "That's my job."

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