50 Great Bits From The 25 Books I Read In 2017

This idea was originally inspired by Julien Smith, a much more prolific reader than I. Here are my similar lists from years past: 2012, 2013, 2014, 20152016.

Given the amount of long planes ride I had in 2017, I expected to read many more books than usual throughout the year. While I capped out at 25 again, this was probably the most diverse reading year genre-wise I’ve ever had, mainly because I made a point to finally read more fiction. Although it took a while to get used to reading not for the sake of learning something of benefit to my career, personal life, or bar trivia, I enjoyed the rhythm of reading non-fiction in the morning to get my problem-solving brain going and then fiction at night to bore me, er, get me thinking about something more abstract before falling asleep.

Despite how others might remember 2017, it was a great book year for me and several I read will likely remain among my all-time favorites for years to come. Here are 50 of my favorite passages, quotes, and bits from all 25 of those reads (words are the respective author’s unless otherwise noted).

Catch-22 by Joseph Heller

1) The Texan turned out to be good-natured, generous and likable. In three days no one could stand him.

2) ‘You put so much stock in winning wars,’ the grubby iniquitous old man scoffed. ‘The real trick lies in losing wars, in knowing which wars can be lost. Italy has been losing wars for centuries, and just see how splendidly we’ve done nonetheless. France wins wars and is in a continual state of crisis. Germany loses and prospers. Look at our own recent history. Italy won a war in Ethiopia and promptly stumbled into serious trouble. Victory gave us such insane delusions of grandeur that we helped start a world war we hadn’t a chance of winning. But now that we are losing again, everything has taken a turn for the better, and we will certainly come out on top again if we succeed in being defeated.’

The Paradox of Choice by Barry Schwartz

3) According to a survey conducted by Yankelovich Partners, a majority of people want more control over the details of their lives, but a majority of people also want to simplify their lives. There you have it—the paradox of our times.

4) In addition to the normal workplace wardrobe, employees had to create a “workplace casual” wardrobe. It couldn’t really be the sweats and T-shirts you wore around the house on the weekend. It had to be a selection of clothing that sustained a certain image—relaxed, but also meticulous and serious. All of a sudden, the range of wardrobe possibilities was expanded, and a decision-making problem emerged. It was no longer a question of the blue suit or the brown one, the red tie or the yellow one. The question now was: What is casual? A New Yorker piece about this phenomenon identified at least six different kinds of casual: active casual, rugged casual, sporty casual, dressy casual, smart casual, and business casual. As writer John Seabrook put it, “This may be the most depressing thing about the casual movement: no clothing is casual anymore.” So we got the freedom to make an individual choice about how to dress on a given day, but for many, that choice entailed more complications than it was worth.

Neither Here Nor There by Bill Bryson

5) One of the small marvels of my first trip of Europe was the discovery that the world could be so full of variety, that there were so many different ways of doing essentially identical things, like eating and drinking and buying movie tickets. It fascinated me that Europeans could at once be so alike — that they could be so universally bookish and cerebral, and drive small cars, and live in little houses in ancient towns, and love soccer, and be relatively unmaterialistic and law-abiding — and yet be so endlessly, unpredictably different from each other as well. I loved the idea that you could never be sure of anything in Europe.

6) Liechtenstein’s last military engagement was in 1866, when it sent eighty men to fight against the Italians. Nobody was killed. In fact – you’re going to like this – they came back with eighty-one men, because they made a friend on the way. Two years later, realizing that the Liechtensteiners could beat no one, the Crown Prince disbanded the army.

How To Write Short by Roy Peter Clark

7) Joseph M. Williams’ Five Principles of Concision:

  1. Delete words that mean little or nothing (kind of, really, actually)
  2. Delete words that repeat the meaning of other words (various and sundry)
  3. Delete words implied by other words (terrible tragedy)
  4. Replace a phrase with a word (‘in the event of’ becomes ‘if’)
  5. Change negatives to affirmatives (‘not include’ becomes ‘omit’)

8) Some of the best advice on how to write to and with visual images comes from TV writers and producers. In his book Television News, Ivor Yorke writes, “In most cases, to repeat exactly what is happening on the screen is to waste a great opportunity to tell the viewer something worthwhile. The writer’s skill lies in being able to convey what is not clear from the pictures.” In Aim for the Heart, my Poytner colleague Al Tompkins argues that in good television, “pictures and words should not match,” but they should, according to Jill Geisler, ‘hold hands’.

The Lonely City by Olivia Laing

9) Loneliness feels like such a shameful experience, so counter to the lives we are supposed to lead, that it becomes increasingly inadmissible, a taboo state whose confession seems destined to cause others to turn and flee.

10) No one I knew would admit to liking Craigslist, but I always found it weirdly cheering. The unashamed display of need, the sheer range and specificity of things that people wanted was far more reassuring and democratic than the preening, exacting profiles that appeared on the more sanitised dating sites. If the internet was a city, Craigslist was its Times Square, a site of cross-class, cross-racial contact, temporarily levelled by sexual desire.

Blue Latitudes by Tony Horwitz

11) In 1768, when Cook embarked on the first, roughly a third of the world’s map remained blank, or filled with fantasies: sea monsters, Patagonian giants, imaginary continents. Cook sailed into this void in a small wooden ship and returned, three years later, with charts so accurate that some of them stayed in use until the 1990s.12) The death scene was all the more shocking for its many ironies. Cook, who had often excoriated his men for violent intemperance toward natives, succumbed to precisely that, marching ashore with a menacing but inadequate force and opening fire at the most charged moment possible. A Quaker-influenced child of the Enlightenment, Cook died with a gun in his hand, having just killed a man. The dagger that felled him was forged from one of the iron spikes that Cook himself had ordered for his ships before leaving England, “to exchange for refreshments” and “to be distributed to [natives] in presents towards obtaining their friendship.” The final irony was that Cook died, not in warlike New Zealand or Niue, but on an island where he’d been greeted as a god, and where he’d felt so secure that until the final day he had ordered his men to go ashore unarmed.

Wind, Sand and Stars by Antoine de Saint-Exupery

13) Old friends cannot be created out of hand. Nothing can match the treasure of common memories, of trials endured together, of quarrels and reconciliations and generous emotions. It is idle, having planted an acorn in the morning, to expect that afternoon to sit in the shade of the oak.

14) I thought of our respect for the dead. I thought of the white sanatorium where the light of a man’s life goes quietly out in the presence of those who love him and who garner as if it were an inestimable treasure his last words, his ultimate smile. How right they are! Seeing that this same whole is never again to take shape in the world. Never again will be heard exactly that note of laughter, that intonation of voice, that quality of repartee. Each individual is a miracle. No wonder we go on speaking of the dead for twenty years. Here, in Spain, a man is simply stood up against a wall and he gives up his entrails to the stones of the courtyard. You have been captured. You are shot. Reason: your ideas were not our ideas.

Maphead by Ken Jennings

15) There’s a reason why we call the travel bug “wanderlust,” not “wanderwhim” or “wanderhobby.” It’s an urgent, passionate thing.

16) Tests on gender and navigation have found that women tend to navigate via landmarks (“I turn left when I get to the gas station”) whereas men use dead reckoning (“I still need to be north and maybe a little west of here”), which ties in nicely with the evolutionary perspective: early men went out on hunting expeditions in all directions and always needed to be good at finding their way back to the cave, developing their “kinesic memory,” while women foraged for edibles closer to home, developing “object location memory.” Simply put, men got better at finding places, while women got better at finding things.

Brave New World by Aldous Huxley

17) ‘Did you ever feel,’ he asked slowly, ‘as though you had something inside you that was only waiting for you to give it the chance to come out? Some sort of extra power that you could be using if you knew how?’

‘You mean all the emotions one might be feeling if things were different?’ Helmholtz shook his head.

‘Not quite. I’m thinking of a strange feeling I sometimes get, a feeling that I’ve got something important to say and the power to say it – only I don’t know what it is, and I can’t make any use of the power. If there was some different way of writing… Or else something different to write about. I’m pretty good at inventing phrases that seem new and exciting even if they’re about something completely obvious. But that doesn’t seem enough. It’s not enough for the phrases to be good; what you make with them ought to be good too.’

18) The Savage shook his head. ‘It all seems to me quite horrible.’ ‘Of course it does. Happiness is never as exciting as unhappiness or the struggles of great passions. Happiness is never grand.’

Ogilvy on Advertising by David Ogilvy

19) If it doesn’t sell, it isn’t creative.

20) Highways with billboards have three times as many accidents as highways without billboards. President Eisenhower said, ‘I am against those billboards that mar our scenery, but I don’t know what I can do about it.’ In California, Governor Pat Brown said, ‘When a man throws an empty cigarette package from an automobile, he is liable to a fine of $50. When a man throws a billboard across a view, he is richly rewarded.’

Moonwalking With Einstein by Joshua Foer 

21) Monotony collapses time; novelty unfolds it. You can exercise daily and eat healthily and live a long life, while experiencing a short one. If you spend your life sitting in a cubicle and passing papers, one day is bound to blend unmemorably into the next—and disappear.

That’s why it’s important to change routines regularly, and take vacations to exotic locales, and have as many new experiences as possible that can serve to anchor our memories. Creating new memories stretches out psychological time, and lengthens our perception of our lives.

22) Remembering numbers proved to be one of the real world applications of the memory palace that I relied on almost every day. I used a technique known as the “Major System,” invented around 1648 by Johann Winkelmann, which is nothing more than a simple code to convert numbers into phonetic sounds. Those sounds can then be turned into words, which can in turn become images for a memory palace.

The code works like this: The number 32, for example, would translate into MN, 33 would be MM, and 34 would be MR. To make those consonants meaningful, you’re allowed to freely intersperse vowels. So the number 32 might turn into an image of a man, 33 could be your mom, and 34 might be the Russian space station Mir. Similarly, the number 86 might be a fish, 40 a rose, and 92 a pen. You might visualize 3,219 as a man (32) playing a tuba (19), or maybe a person from Manitoba (3,219). Likewise, 7,879 would translate to KFKP, which might turn into a single image of a coffee cup, or two images of a calf and a cub. The advantage of the Major System is that it’s straightforward, and you can begin using it right out of the box. (When I first learned it, I immediately memorized my credit card and bank account numbers.)

When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi

23) This is how 99 percent of people select their jobs: pay, work environment, hours. But that’s the point. Putting lifestyle first is how you find a job—not a calling.24) “Will having a newborn distract from the time we have together?” she asked.

“Don’t you think saying goodbye to your child will make your death more painful?”

“Wouldn’t it be great if it did?” I said. Lucy and I both felt that life wasn’t about avoiding suffering.

Deep Work by Cal Newport

25) The second reason that deep work is valuable is because the impacts of the digital network revolution cut both ways. If you can create something useful, its reachable audience (e.g., employers or customers) is essentially limitless—which greatly magnifies your reward. On the other hand, if what you’re producing is mediocre, then you’re in trouble, as it’s too easy for your audience to find a better alternative online.26) The idea motivating this strategy is that the use of a distracting service does not, by itself, reduce your brain’s ability to focus. It’s instead the constant switching from low-stimuli/high-value activities to high-stimuli/low-value activities, at the slightest hint of boredom or cognitive challenge, that teaches your mind to never tolerate an absence of novelty. This constant switching can be understood analogously as weakening the mental muscles responsible for organizing the many sources vying for your attention. By segregating Internet use (and therefore segregating distrnactions) you’re minimizing the number of times you give in to distraction, and by doing so you let these attention-selecting muscles strengthen.

The 50 Best* College Football Teams of All-Time by Bill Connelly

27) [Walter] Camp hated the idea of the forward pass. This was not his vision. He and others made sure that passing was still an immense gamble. You wanted to throw? Fine, but a pass had to cross the line of scrimmage at least five yards beyond where the passer received the ball from the center. Violating this rule meant a turnover. A pass could not cross the goal line. Violating this rule meant a turnover. The pass couldn’t even hit the ground without resulting in a turnover.

28) 1990 would go down as one of the craziest seasons in the history of the sport, with six different teams holding the No. 1 ranking and eight holding No. 2. Two teams split the national title – one began the season unranked and didn’t reach the top 10 until November; the other lost a game, tied a game, and benefited from two of the most famous, controversial calls ever.

Underground Airlines by Ben H. Winters

29) What the slave wants but can never have is not only freedom from the chains but also from their memory.

30) Sometimes it’s possible, just barely possible, to imagine a version of this world different from the existing one, a world in which there is true justice, heroic honesty, a clear perception possessed by each individual about how to treat all the others. Sometimes I swear I could see it, glittering in the pavement, glowing between the words in a stranger’s sentence, a green, impossible vision—the world as it was meant to be, like a mist around the world as it is.

How To Change The World by John-Paul Flintoff

31) The Victorian artist and writer John Ruskin once asked why we gave medals to people who, in a moment and without much thought, save somebody’s life, but we give no medal to people who devote years to bringing up a child.

32) Going first does not necessarily mean taking charge of everything that follows.

Growth Hacker Marketing by Ryan Holiday

33) “You’ve heard it in a million meetings. And clients are so flip about it: “We want to go viral. Make people share this online.” Everyone wants it. As though massive viral sharing is as simple as asking for it. All I know is that I cringe each time I hear a client make that assumption. The growth hacker has a response: Well, why should customers do that? Have you actually made it easy for them to spread your product? Is the product even worth talking about?”

34) At the core, marketing is lead generation. Ads drive awareness . . . to drive sales. PR and publicity drive attention . . . to drive sales. Social media drives communication . . . to drive sales. Marketing, too many people forget, is not an end unto itself. It is simply getting customers. And by the transitive property, anything that gets customers is marketing.

The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner

35) It was propped against the collar box and I lay listening to it. Hearing it, that is. I dont suppose anybody ever deliberately listens to a watch or a clock. You dont have to. You can be oblivious to the sound for a long while, then in a second of ticking it can create in the mind unbroken the long diminishing parade of time you didn’t hear.

36) Father said a man is the sum of his misfortunes.

Study Hall by Bill Connelly

37) When you grow up in an area obsessed with this sport, and when you take in the collegiate game day experience enough, it becomes a large portion of your identity, more than perhaps any other sport in this country. You cannot fathom another way to spend autumn Saturdays. You get nervous when friends announce they’re getting married in September. Cracking open a beer at 8:00 a.m. is, on Saturdays, completely defensible. Driving 12 hours round trip for a big conference game? Not only logical, but necessary. NFL fans who say things like “Well, I don’t really follow college football…” make you question both their integrity and their morals. You perhaps cannot justify some of college sports’ shadier dealings, but you believe there is enough good to outweigh the bad, and it is difficult to imagine what might change that.

38) For now, just know that if your average starting field position was in the low 20s, you probably lost. If it was in the high 30s, you probably won. While the way you capitalize on your opportunities matters, the simple fact is, creating more opportunities through field position typically results in more points.

The E-Myth Revisited by Michael E. Gerber

39) If your business depends on you, you don’t own a business—you have a job. And it’s the worst job in the world because you’re working for a lunatic! “And, besides, that’s not the purpose of going into business. “The purpose of going into business is to get free of a job so you can create jobs for other people. “The purpose of going into business is to expand beyond your existing horizons. So you can invent something that satisfies a need in the marketplace that has never been satisfied before. So you can live an expanded, stimulating new life.”

40) Your business and your life are two totally separate things. At its best, your business is something apart from you, rather than a part of you, with its own rules and its own purposes. An organism, you might say, that will live or die according to how well it performs its sole function: to find and keep customers.

Neuromancer by William Gibson

41) He walked till morning. The high wore away, the chromed skeleton corroding hourly, flesh growing solid, the drug-flesh replaced with the meat of his life. He couldn’t think. He liked that very much, to be conscious and unable to think. He seemed to become each thing he saw: a park bench, a cloud of white moths around an antique streetlight, a robot gardener striped diagonally with black and yellow.

42) Straylight reminded Case of deserted early morning shopping centers he’d known as a teenager, low-density places where the small hours brought a fitful stillness, a kind of numb expectancy, a tension that left you watching insects swarm around caged bulbs above the entrance of darkened shops. Fringe places, just past the borders of the Sprawl, too far from the all-night click and shudder of the hot core. There was that same sense of being surrounded by the sleeping inhabitants of a waking world he had no interest in visiting or knowing, of dull business temporarily suspended, of futility and repetition soon to wake again.

The Art of Smart Football by Chris B. Brown

43) In addition to extensive drill work, [Mike] McCarthy often gives his quarterbacks lengthy written tests, once even asking his non-Montana quarterbacks in Kansas City to write an essay describing the Chiefs’ version of the West Coast offense “from a philosophical perspective.”

44) A quarterback translates his knowledge of defenses and passing plays to the field through his reads, of which there are two basic types: progression and coverage. “A progression read is a pass play where three or more receivers are looked to in a one, two, three progression. ‘Is he open? Is he open? Is he open?’” said [David] Cutcliffe. With a coverage read, it’s “the coverage played by the defense” that determines which receivers the quarterback looks for.

Tools of Titans by Tim Ferriss

45) If the best in the world are stretching their asses off in order to get strong, why aren’t you? (Christopher Sommer)

46) I wish I would have known that there was no need to wait. I went to college. I went to law school. I worked in law and banking, though not for terribly long. But not until I started PayPal did I fully realize that you don’t have to wait to start something. So if you’re planning to do something with your life, if you have a 10-year plan of how to get there, you should ask: Why can’t you do this in 6 months? Sometimes, you have to actually go through the complex, 10-year trajectory. But it’s at least worth asking whether that’s the story you’re telling yourself, or whether that’s the reality. (Peter Thiel)

The Mind and the Brain by Jeffrey M. Schwartz

47) The brain of a child is almost miraculously resilient, or plastic: surgeons can remove the entire left hemisphere, and thus (supposedly) all of the brain’s language regions, and the child still learns to talk, read, and write as long as the surgery is performed before age four or five.

48) The seven-month-old Japanese babies whom [Patricia] Kuhl tested had no trouble discriminating r from l. But ten month-olds were as deaf to the difference as adults. When Kuhl did a similar test of Canadian babies raised in English-speaking homes, she got the same results: six-month-olds could distinguish Hindi speech sounds even though those sounds were not part of their auditory world; by 12 months they could not. Between six and twelve months, Kuhl concludes, babies’ brains begin the ‘use it or lose’ process of pruning unused synapses. The auditory cortex loses its sensitivity to phonemes that it does not hear every day. This may be why children who do not learn a second language before puberty rarely speak it like natives.

The Three-Body Problem by Liu Cixin

49) “From time to time, I would gaze up at the stars after a night shift and think that they looked like a glowing desert, and I myself was a poor child abandoned in the desert.… I thought that life was truly an accident among accidents in the universe. The universe was an empty palace, and humankind the only ant in the entire palace. This kind of thinking infused the second half of my life with a conflicted mentality: Sometimes I thought life was precious, and everything was so important; but other times I thought humans were insignificant, and nothing was worthwhile. Anyway, my life passed day after day accompanied by this strange feeling, and before I knew it, I was old…”

50) There’s a strange contradiction revealed by the naïveté and kindness demonstrated by humanity when faced with the universe: On Earth, humankind can step onto another continent, and without a thought, destroy the kindred civilizations found there through warfare and disease. But when they gaze up at the stars, they turn sentimental and believe that if extraterrestrial intelligences exist, they must be civilizations bound by universal, noble, moral constraints, as if cherishing and loving different forms of life are parts of a self-evident universal code of conduct.

The 10 College Football Games That Formed My Fandom

I recently read Study Hall: College Football, Its Stats, And Its Stories by Bill Connelly, college football savant/robot, writer, and podcaster.

The book, which is half-love letter to the game/half-deep dive into its new analytics, opens with Connelly and three other college football wonks listing the 10 ‘formative’ games and moments that turned them into the fans they are today (a large chunk of this section can actually be read in the Amazon preview, though the book is absolutely worth a purchase).

Even though I only watched a handful of these games live, the reason for each being listed was all too familiar. Any college football fan over a certain age will have similar tales of sickening heartbreak, triumph rising inexplicably from desperation, watching under unusual circumstance, and stunned disbelief (for better or worse).

Their lists inspired me to write my own, and while the teams, names, and dates change, the emotions within will be familiar to every college football fan.

October 26, 1996: Army 27, Miami (OH) 7

sMy earliest college football memory and probably the first game I ever attended. Just 8 at the time, the game itself I remember very little of (I actually had to look up if Miami had won or lost). What I do remember is that it was Miami’s homecoming and there were happy people all around (including my grandparents who came down for the game), marching bands, a buzz in the air reminiscent of the county fair, and all sorts of good smells. I’m also pretty sure everything was sepia-toned that day too, the way fall afternoons in our memories always seem to be.

Although I was too young to appreciate much about the game itself or that this Army team would go to become the first and only in program history to win 10 games, I was old enough to realize this college football thing was fun. After getting back that evening, I remember going into our backyard by myself with a football and imagining I too would one day be playing under a gray autumn sky (life’s full of little disappointments).

December 31, 2000: Mississippi State 43, Texas A&M 41

For reasons still unbeknownst to both myself and my family, I latched on hard to Mississippi State as a kid despite never having set foot in the Magnolia State. If you were to go through childhood photos of me, you would see Bulldog hats and shirts making regular cameos from about first grade through junior high (however my dream of owning a cowbell was never realized). Despite growing up just hours from the Michigan border, there was only one MSU to me and at one point I could rattle off as many (if not more) Bulldogs than I could Buckeyes.

While I may have forgotten the reasons for this odd obsession, I’ll never forget the third and final bowl game Jackie Sherrill’s squad made during my fandom, the 2000 Independence Bowl. My parents were hosting a New Year’s Eve gathering and myself and everyone else with even a passing interest in football were captivated by this game being played somewhere amidst whiteout conditions in Shreveport, Louisiana. In the days that followed I obsessively replayed clips on ESPN.com’s clunky video player of State coming back from being down 14 in the 4th, Justin Griffith’s blocked PAT return in OT, and Wayne Madkin’s game-winning scramble to the plane. For years, a newspaper photo of the game was taped on the back of my bedroom door, and even decades the later the game continues to spawn homages from writers like Connelly and even on-field tributes from Clanga Clanga themselves.

January 3, 2003: Ohio State 31, Miami (FL) 24 (2OT)

Confession: I initially bandwagoned my future alma mater, the same school my family tried to indoctrinate upon me with at birth. The fact that Ohio State football, which mostly seemed like a source of familial frustration during my formidable years (see: 2-10-1), was undefeated heading into the 2002 iteration of The Game seemed like nothing more than a neat bit of trivia to 14-year old me. But with Ohio State up 14-9 and just a minute remaining, Michigan’s final drive suddenly had me feeling for the first time like I had actual skin in the game, reducing me to watching hunkered under a blanket next to my dad (who had long ago already taken his customary seat on the floor, as he always does during tight game situations). As sports can do, I suddenly felt like this football team was personally representing me, my family, and where I was from.

An equally new feeling would overtake me about five weeks later in the National Championship, the first any team I liked made it to since I was of remembering-age. The bewilderment of not only Ohio State just being in the game but taking it to Larry Coker’s stacked roster of future NFLers was as exhilarating as watching overtime was exhausting. Watching with family in my uncle’s basement, Ken Dorsey’s final pass hitting the turf launched us all into some sort of bouncing, hugging moshpit. Going back to that basement even years later always felt like visiting hallowed ground: something important happened here. I had always loved sports, but 8th grade me had no idea knew they could be this good.

December 4, 2003: Miami (OH) 33, Bowling Green 10

Ok, I sort of bandwagoned my siblings’ alma mater, too. I in no way renounced my new Ohio State ardor during Miami football’s most recent golden era, but in my mind they were technically the home team by a factor of 30 minutes and at the time I thought I was going to follow in my siblings’ footsteps and be a Redhawk one day. Plus, I’ve always had (and still do) a soft spot in my heart for mid-major teams doing major conference things.

Photo: giard.smugmug.com

In an epic MAC season which saw three schools finish with 10 wins, Ben Roethlisberger’s #14 Redhawks squared off against Josh Harris’ #20 Bowling Green Falcons in the conference title game (the last to not be played at a neutral site). The Friday night tilt was hyperlocal to me yet garnered national attention, much like the many European soccer derbies I was always fascinated with. Puzzled that my sister, a current Miami student, would rather study upstairs, I watched alone as Big Ben lead Miami to their first conference title since the mid-80s. Around that time, I remember my brother saying he once stopped into a McDonald’s at the BGSU exit with a Miami hat on and received as he described, ‘daggers’ from the locals. As a kid, I ate up that even this seemingly small-time football could inspire such large begrudgement.

Sept. 4, 2004: LSU 22, Oregon State 21 (OT)

Maybe the first time I ever felt genuinely sick for an athlete I had zero connection to. The upset-minded Beavers had defending national champions LSU on the ropes in Baton Rouge and probably would have won in regulation if not for the ails of kicker Alex Serna.

A freshman walk-on, Serna missed three PATs that day including one in overtime responsible for the end of the game, this painful photo, possibly the ‘college kickers, man‘ meme, and me burying my face in the couch out of agonizing empathy. So moved by what I saw, I wrote many now-lost words about the incident on my (first) short-lived college football blog (hosted by Freewebs). I gained a strange fondness for this game as Serna’s career went along, which became one truly worthy of its own 30 for 30 special. After receiving an outpouring of support from fans (including a 12-year old fan who was fighting cancer) he went on that season to make 17 of 20 field goals, win the Lou Groza award the following year, set numerous school records, and make every single extra point the rest of his career.

Even with that happy ending, the scene is still a tough one to watch:

November 25, 2006: BYU 33, Utah 31

One thing I’ve always loved about college football is that a true understanding of what it’s like to be a fan of another school isn’t attainable by attending a single game, by reading a book, or through a conversation with a super fan. Like living in another country, the culture of a team is often something you have to be born into and grow up around to truly ‘get’. 

I got at least a small taste of what being a BYU fan it was like through this classic Holy War matchup. One of my best friends in high school was Mormon and his dad had even been on BYU’s practice squad in the 80s (as he tells it, he once got reamed for sacking Steve Young during a no-contact drill). While I knew John Beck’s pass to a beyond wide-open Jonny Harline was an important win because the NCAA Football video games told me it was a big rivalry game, I could tell just by being around his family in the afterglow that it meant so much more than I could possibly comprehend or be explained in an afternoon.

October 25, 2008: Penn State 13, Ohio State 6

Although temperature records only show it as being in the low 40s, I remember being so paralyzed by the cold (and maybe s̶o̶m̶e̶  all of the liquor I downed in the hour between rowing practice and kickoff) that I paced around the concourse by myself during halftime in an attempt to try and warm up. That didn’t work, and in the third quarter the cold and my post-buzz crash reduced me to being pretty much the only person in my section that stayed seated.

I finally came to in the fourth quarter, just in time to see #3 Penn State go on a 10-0 run and Terrelle Pryor throw a pick in the far end zone as time ran out. Since then, I’ve always tried to heed my brother’s sage advice regarding drinking and football: “Remember the game.” (although games like that I’m fine with forgetting).

November 1, 2008: Texas Tech 39, Texas 33

Dressed as Peewee Herman at a Haloween party, I can vividly remember this game pulling more and more people into the living room where the TV was tuned to what was going on in Lubbock.

The reactions around me to Texas’ Blake Gideon dropping the pick with :08 left, then to Crabtree escaping down the line for the winner were loud enough to be an Ohio State game. College football, even games with minimal impact on your own school, just seems to have greater gravitas when you too are in college.

November 14, 2009: Ohio State 27, Iowa 24 (OT)

A small downside of attending a university that’s a college football blue blood is that opportunities to storm the field are scarce (poor me, I know). On paper, this de facto Big 10 Championship game didn’t look like it would have storms in the forecast, but the way it played out provided me (and anyone that started school after the ’06 season) with their one and only chance to rush as students.

The game was a slugfest, and after Iowa went fourth and out in overtime, backup kicker and 26-year old Devin Barclay was called up to try a potential game winner aimed right at where I was sitting. He nailed it, cascading the student section onto the field. Once there, I looked back for the two friends I came to the game with, to no avail. They told me later they didn’t know where I had bolted off to–one even said they thought I really had to go to the bathroom (they weren’t big football fans). Running around on the field by myself, I patted plenty of shoulder pads, high-fived long snapper Jake McQuaide, and even got into a sort of gross, Thanksgiving wishbone-style tug of war over a scarlet mouthpiece another student and I spied on the ground (I lost). I’m convinced though another fan has an even better souvenir from the night: I recall hearing that Barclay’s nameplate, which you can see just barely sewn on in the above video, was ripped from its seams by someone in the aftermath.

October 8, 2011: Nebraska 34, Ohio State 27

My first experience as an away fan. Myself and three Buckeye friends made the 12-hour drive to visit an NU friend and attend the first ever Ohio State-Nebraska Big Ten game. This was my first soccer-style ‘away day’, my Green Street Hooligans moment (minus the street fighting).

While the students and Lincoln were friendly to us four Buckeye ambassadors, the football gods were not. After backup QB Joe Bauserman replaced an injured Braxton Miller, he completed just one of his 10 passes on the night (two if you count interceptions), inspiring this meme that still gets tweeted whenever an OSU quarterback is having an errant day. In the meantime, Ohio State’s 21-point lead withered and eventually Nebraska took the lead for good with 5 minutes remaining. For whatever reason in that moment I had the wherewithal to take a picture, which I consider to be the magnum opus of thrill-of-victory-agony-of-defeat photos:

If you’re a non-fan and managed to read this far, you might notice that college football is so much more than wins and losses, than rankings and redshirts, than tailgates and touchdowns—stats and scores are secondary to the stories every game generates. As Connelly said on his podcast recently, “Every college football game, no matter how big or small, means the world to at least a few hundred people.” There’s something in this sport for everyone, and its reliable appearance every autumn weekend gives a sense of renewal and marks the passing of time the way only a handful of holidays can. 

Like how the meal is an excuse rather than the reason for everyone to get together for Thanksgiving dinner, college football is a centerpiece on which we can check back into something that for the most part goes unchanged, see some faces old and new, and make some new memories together.

Who Sells Chicken Eggs?: Adventures Learning Thai in Thailand

I‘ve always been fond of learning things that have little long-term application. 

So when I followed my English-teaching girlfriend to Thailand for five months earlier this year, I jumped at the opportunity to (try and) learn the Thai language. 

What follows is a case study I hope other language enthusiasts/pursuers of randomness can use when considering Thai as their next target language. In it, I detail my learning strategy (or lack thereof), quirks and challenges, and my “results” that I hope can all give a feel for what studying this tongue in its motherland is like.  

The Thai language has two reputations:

  1. it’s impossible for Westerners to learn;
  2. wanting to learn it means you’re interested in ‘negotiating’ with certain ‘individuals’ about ‘acts’ that may or may not involve ping-pong balls.

The stigma surrounding its difficulty is more or less backed up by the Foreign Service Institute’s ranking of how many supposed classroom hours it takes for a native English speaker to reach proficiency in a foreign language. Thai ranks in tier four of the five-tier scale, with a denotation (*) indicating it’s “usually more difficult for native English speakers to learn than other languages in the same category”:

And the stigma surrounding its nighttime use is backed up by awesome Bill Hader bits:

I think many also regard learning the language as pointless, as enough people on the Thai tourist trail speak English to make getting what you need and where you need to go a cinch most of the time.

Being far from prodigal with languages (or with studying anything), I set my expectations low heading in. But after five months of regular instruction and minimal outside-the-classroom effort, overall I’m pleased with the amount I learned and believe it will surely impress the waitstaff at a Thai restaurant back home someday (or uncover that they are actually Vietnamese).  

Language Learning Background (For Context)

Age While Studying Thai: 28/29

Language Resume:

• English: Native
• Spanish B1 level (self-assessed): two disinterested years each in high school and college, studied at language schools for ~10 weeks total in Panama and Colombia in mid-twenties
• Have messed around with other languages on Duolingo, but never for long

Thai is the first language I’ve attempted to learn when starting from square absolute-zero. While I didn’t start taking Spanish until high school, growing up in America you pick up a fair amount of words and phrases through restaurant menus, movies, and Taco Bell commercials.

Even when studying Spanish a few years ago as a (de facto) adult, it was a labor of love. Sometimes I think I like reading about language learning and following polyglot exploits (like those of Benny Lewis and Laoshu) more than actually studying and practicing.

If I had any, my language learning strengths would be vocab memorization, reproducing the tone and inflection of native speakers, and reading. Weaknesses are nearly everything else involved, including listening and processing normally-paced conversations, remembering or at least implementing special grammar rules, and writing.

What I Knew About Thai Before My First Lesson

Since Duolingo’s Thai course is seemingly stuck in permanent beta mode, before going to Thailand I downloaded a free app called Thai by Nemo. Other than learning ‘hello’ (sawatdee) and ‘welcome’ (yindee), not much really stuck with me (probably because I never felt compelled to stick with it). Through reading the resources and posts on the r/languagelearning and r/learnthai boards on reddit, I also picked up that:

•  Words can be one of five possible tones (middle, low, high, rising, falling)
•  To be polite, guys say “krab/kap” at the end of sentences while girls say “ka”
•  The ‘alphabet’ is 40+ consonants and almost half as many vowels
•  There are no spaces in between written sentences
•  Mai pen rai (roughly, “don’t worry about it”)

And that’s basically it.

Expectations/Goals Through Five Months

Since I didn’t know what I was getting myself into and because I was still freelancing, I set the bar fairly low. At the end of five months, I  told myself I simply wanted to be able to:

•  Have ‘restaurant fluency’ (be able to order food, ask about menu items, etc.)
•  Ask basic questions in shops/bus stations (do you have this in a big size/color, when is the next bus)
•  Be able to go through the ‘hellomynameisIamfromdoyoulikeithere’-s’ comfortably with strangers
•  Explain that I am allergic to peanuts well enough to not die

Naturally, I also expected plenty of frustrating moments, days where I felt like I had learned nothing, and not really being able to read much after all was said and done. I also had the expectation that not many people in our town (~25,000) would speak English, forcing me to use Thai frequently in a variety of situations.

Method & Instruction

Although I prefer to learn most things just figuring it on my own, starting with a native speaker instructor seemed like the best option since I had zero foundation and none of the free materials I could find online presented the language in a progression that seemed logical to me (ironic foreshadowing).

During my five months of study I had two different kru, whose approaches were polar opposites of the other:

Teacher 1:

•  Co-owner of a language center, spoke English fluently
•  Taught with workbooks written solely in Thai
•  Gave regular tests and homework on which my classmate and I were strictly graded
•  Heavy focus on reading, perfect tonality, grammar, and spelling memorization
•  Spoke in English often, but never wrote in it
•  Classes were five days a week, 90 minutes a day for two and a half months. I had one classmate with me, who was also a complete beginner.

Teacher 2:

•  Instructor at a different language center, spoke English and French fluently
•  Occasionally had me translating basic sentences off an (English) worksheet, otherwise everything done on whiteboard
•  No homework, tests, or real formality
•  Focused strictly on phrases and words I would find immediately useful
•  Explained concepts in English and wrote most words and sayings karaoke-style (writing ‘sa-wat-dee’ instead of in Thai script)
•  Classes were three days a week, one hour a day, for one and a half months. Classes were one-on-one.

Outside Resources:

Outside of class (and homework given by Teacher 1), I’d occasionally establish a routine of studying on my own, but nothing that ever stuck for too long. When I did study, I used:

•  Memrise app (top 4000 most common words deck)
•  Actual flashcards on words and phrases from class
•  YouTube videos on whatever sticking point I was having
•  iTalki just once, but loved it and found it very helpful

I also bought a children’s comic book as a way to learn basic dialogue, but never got past page one.

At the highest, I estimate I put in 5-7 hours of outside study during a week. However there were also many weeks I put in 0, especially during my stint with Teacher 1.


Teacher 1 (Months 1-3):

It was impossible to know what Teacher 1 would be like heading in (I had to book the classes long before arriving in Thailand), but looking at the bulleted list above screams all sorts of learning red flags I know most successful language learners preach against.

A character flaw of mine is that I feel personally offended when I’m being taught something in what I feel is an impractical way, and my buy-in was admittedly low after the first few weeks when I recognized I was being taught the same way I was Spanish in high school: an emphasis on perfect grammar and spelling, rote memorization, and little practice speaking conversationally.

Being asked to memorize vocab words about gardening before I could ask for a side of rice felt… juvenile, as did being given quizzes and tests whose results were regularly referenced like they actually meant something other than being a gauge for how many random sets of words we could memorize. Mistakes were far from encouraged and my classmate and I were regularly told that Thai people would not understand us unless we perfectly executed the correct tone for every word we said (which turned out to be barely even a half-truth).

That said, because of Teacher 1, I can read more Thai than I ever thought I would be able to. While ‘read’ usually means being able to sound out words correctly without having any idea what they actually mean, even this came in handy more than a few times when looking at a Thai-only menu or map. I can’t deny that Teacher 1 gave me a solid foundation of the language that probably in part made my time with Teacher 2 so enjoyable and productive (spoilers).

Teacher 2 (Months 4-5):

I was a fan of Teacher 2 as soon as he assessed where I was and took into account why I was there: to learn to speak Thai with others. That and when I asked at the end of the first class if I had any homework, his look was reminiscent of the one I often gave Teacher 1 when she’d assign us pages of trace-the-consonant work to do at home.

While his persistent use of karaoke writing threw me off and may have slowed progress toward fluency 1 (if I were to keep studying exponentially), the amount I absorbed and was able to use outside of class skyrocketed. At first I thought all the karaoke might hinder my reading ability, but I quickly found myself recognizing new words (written in Thai) on signage that I learned in class.

Teacher 2 was extremely high-energy and our classes never had much structure other than they began with me asking how to say something, him answering, and then class spinning off into more related phrases and more questions from me. Grammar and tone were rarely ever taught directly. While with Teacher 1 I would reach the ‘brain melt’ stage of learning more out of frustration than actual learning, Teacher 2’s pace was so quick my brain often felt completely saturated by minute 45.

Self-Study and Practice:

Again, I never established a disciplined routine with learning on my own. Even though I can rattle off what expert language learners consider to be best practices (learn the 100 most common words first, decode the grammar structure, use mnemonic devices to memorize vocab) and was reasonably compliant with them when learning Spanish, for some reason I completely entrusted Teacher 1 to get me where I wanted to go. But by Week 5 I was already burnt out and rarely motivated to do much self-study (except to do better on her tests in order to avoid further ridicule, which I still didn’t do very well).

Taking the karaoke phrases Teacher 2 would write on the board and making physical flashcards with them was the most helpful in terms of rapidly absorbing words and phrases I could apply in the real world (even if it was delaying me from actually thinking in the language). These physical flashcards combined with mnemonic devices also helped with learning the consonants and vowels reasonably quick. Despite all the science backing up spaced-repetition learning, I never stuck with using flashcard apps for long (largely because making my own with the Thai keyboard was a slow process).

Even as my confidence and ability slowly improved, I fell into a rut with when and where I would use Thai. With so many more people speaking English than expected, I had quite a few of these interactions (substitute the Norwegian flags for Thai and pretend I’m the guy in the cool green hat):

Credit: reddit user Grandpa_Shorts

Generally, I stuck to using Thai in stores and restaurants, but very rarely did I ever try and make small talk. On the few occasions I did (usually at restaurants I frequented), the ‘conversation’ ended in an ‘aww that’s cute’ kind of bemusement or just a confused look on the other person’s face. I hit this exact same road bump with Spanish and can’t help but think taking a 90 Strangers-type approach with my next language (Japanese) would be a helpful workaround.


Aaaand after five months here’s what I can do in Thai:

  • Order food and ask about menu items with no confusion or struggle 90% of the time
  • Read and understand a usually-helpful amount of words on signage and menus
  • Pick out occasional words in announcements and in others’ conversations
  • Say “Are there peanuts?”, “Please do not put peanuts on it,” and “I can’t eat peanuts.”

Due to being undisciplined with practicing them, my basic conversation question/answer skills don’t extend beyond what is your name, where are you from, and what is your job.

Overall, I speak enough that I feel like I pleasantly surprise many native speakers. I definitely do not speak enough where a Thai person who speaks English better than my Thai would not prefer to switch over. 

Sticky and Not-So Sticky Points:

Teacher 1 grievances aside, there were many other elements of learning the language that made me consider giving up completely or otherwise question why I was even bothering. Heading in, there were also some things I was fearful of that turned out to be no big deal.

Tones: Overall, I didn’t think tones were that tough to get down (again though, I’m not even a medium-level speaker and maybe this is part of the reason why). Also, they’re not a completely foreign (puntended) concept as many make them out to be; even English can be tonal at times:

Generally, consonants will carry a tone mark telling you to use a high, low, rising or falling tone (sort of like how a flat or sharp modifies a note in music). If there is no mark, then most words are middle tone.

The most challenging aspect of this was when I was asking a question or was unsure if what I was saying was correct (so, a lot of the time). In English one way to indicate a question is to use a rising inflection, which in Thai completely changes the meaning of what you are saying (as it results in a rising tone).

These tones and the short nature of Thai words can also lead to fun tongue twisters like: Krai kaai kai gai (Who sells chicken eggs?) and Maai mai mai mai mai (New wood doesn’t burn, does it?). They can also get you into some trouble:

The words for near and far (glâi and glai) also have the same pronunciation but with a different tone, which seems strikingly inconvenient and I imagine has screwed more than one person over when asking directions.

Classifiers: You know how in English you wouldn’t say “two breads”, but “two loaves of bread” instead? Those are called classifiers and in Thai there are over 300 of them. And just for fun, they are often shared by groups of things that have no clear connection (descriptions from Thai-Language.com):

  • ตัว / “tua” = animals, insects, fish, birds, tables, chairs, desks, shirts, pants, dresses, coats, digits and letters of different alphabets, parts such as nails
  • เล่ม / “lem” = books, carts, candles, knives, swords, axes, pins, needles
  • ชุด / “choht” = suits, sets of furniture, series of things, team of players

While intimidating and frustrating, I found that at least for purposes of ordering food in markets and restaurants, not that many needed to be memorized.

Google Translate: Even though Thai is generally spoken in short, simple sentences (comparatively), Google Translate blows. Unless you can explicitly identify which meaning of a word you want to use, it almost never structures or writes a sentence into something simple and comprehensible. Much more helpful was Googling phrases like “Thai phrases restaurant” and finding what I was looking to say on a Thai-teaching site.

Fonts: Even though I have a solid grasp with reading simple words and phrases, many consonants are simplified or stylized in a way that make them incredibly difficult to read/don’t look like anything I learned in class. While I learned to recognize some of these stylized versions, other times I was still at a loss even though I could read all the consonants in my textbook’s font.

Funky Sounds: Another reason Thai is thought of as so difficult for Westerners are its many unfamiliar sounds. In particular, the ng sound in words like ngaay (which ironically means ‘easy’) remains impossible for me, especially in the flow of speaking, where I tend to prepare my mouth for the awkward position by trying to make my chin one with my neck.

Telling Time: Both teachers tried to explain telling time to me, which in Thai is divided into six parts of the day instead of English’s two (AM and PM). I never even got close to grasping/remembering it, rationalizing by thinking about all the times I’ve never asked anyone for the time over the past decade.

Successes, Failures, and Favorites

Three Little Failures:

•  Early on, I looked up how to say goodbye in Google Translate and it told me lah gawn. So naturally, I started saying this to store clerks, taxi drivers, and basically everyone else, all the time. One night, a 7/11 employee seemed alarmed when I hit her with a confident lah gawn, telling me in English: “no no no don’t say that!” Apparently, law gahn is how you say goodbye to someone you know you won’t see again or in a long time, meaning I had told about half the town essentially to “Have a nice life!”

•  I once told a waitress that was concerned about my girlfriend and I going out in the rain, “I will have your umbrella” instead of “I have an umbrella.” Despite her confusion, she actually seemed willing.

•  The head of the English program at my girlfriend’s school goes by ‘Kru Eh’. The word for banana is ‘gluay‘. The word for dick is ‘kuay.’ And that’s how I once asked someone if they knew a ‘Teacher Penis’ at my girlfriend’s school. This is also why one of Thai people’s favorite pastimes is pointing to bananas and asking you how to pronounce them in Thai.

Three Little Successes:

•  On many occasions, I would go to a restaurant, order food, ask questions, and pay being understood 100% of the time. Again, this is what I practiced most but the look of relief from shopkeepers that I suspect weren’t confident in their English was very rewarding.

•  That first time I realized I had told the lady at the smoothie stall my name, where I was from, why we were in Thailand, for how long, what are jobs were, and where we were going next, all in Thai.

•  After ordering buns at a streetside stall, an old man behind the cashier-person said something like “That farang (Western foreigner) speaks Thai?” as I walked away.

Favorite Phrases:

• It’s said Thai people don’t really say any form of ‘how are you’ to one another, but instead “did you eat yet?” I don’t think I ever actually caught anyone saying this to each other, but it’s fun to say anyway: geen kao rue-yahng

• The Thai equivalent to “piece of cake” is “gluay gluay” (banana banana!)

• One thing I love about languages is that it’s often a clue to much more about the culture that uses it. Thai people are generally indirect communicators, so at the end of most requests it’s polite to stick in the wordnoi (a little bit), even if it doesn’t make much literal sense: puud fi noi krap (turn on the lights a little please), chuay keeyun hai du noi (‘can you write it for me a little’), kaw yuum deensaw noi dai mai krap (‘can I borrow a pencil a little please’).

Favorite Mnemonic Devices To Remember Words:

•  Paw-kaa (pen): I pictured a dramatic scene where my pen ran out of ink so I cried out in butchered Spanish, “PAW KAWWWW”
•  Sappan (bridge): P.K. Subban clumsily walking across a bridge wearing skates
•  Prunee (tomorrow): Staying in a hot tub until tomorrow will surely make you pruny

If I Had To Do It All Over Again…

Hindsight makes everyone a genius, but I think the optimal approach to have optimized my learning time in Thailand, with or without a teacher would have looked like:

  • Weeks 1-4: Focus on learning the consonants, vowels, and basic principles of tone first (visually and verbally)
  • Weeks 5-8: Learn and practice the ~50-100 most common words and phrases (verbally, karaoke, and Thai script). Focus on simply being understood, with perfection a secondary concern
  • Weeks 8-12: Take already-learned words and phrases as well as some new ones to learn the basics of sentence/request/question structure
  • Weeks 12-16: Ditch the karaoke writing in place of Thai script only, focus on cleaning up tone other nuances, and using different tenses
  • Weeks 16-20: Vocabulary/phrase expansion

Throughout, I would better force myself into more uncomfortable speaking situations with people I knew wouldn’t try and switch to English. I think weekly iTalki sessions rotating between two or three different instructors would have been a boon as well. And even though people swear by them, I think I would ditch the flashcard apps for paper ones much quicker.

Final Reflection/TL;DR

Again, fluency in Thai is not even on my radar (or the rader next to my radar), and most basic conversations at normal speed are still beyond my grasp to both listen to or participate in. Looking at the Interagency Language Roundtable scale, I am definitely not higher than ILR Level 1 (Elementary Proficiency):

This might not seem like a lot for five months (and it isn’t). But even with some huge knowledge gaps still in my basic survival Thai, that I had other things going on (e.g., freelancing and having a girlfriend), and one teacher pushing me to the point of wanting to quit out of (immature) spite, I can’t help but be pleased with what I did manage to learn and the reactions I received after just five months of just dabbling in the language.

It sounds obvious, but Thai was also a reminder of just how much hard work, patience, and persistence learning a language takes; I took for granted the foundation that the four years of Spanish gave me before I really started giving it a real effort. As I am already in the midst of my next language-learning foray (Japanese in Japan), I’m trying to keep this in mind and am sure and that one day I’ll look back on the time spent learning Thai simply as a re-education on how to learn, long after I fail to keep my sa-bai-dee mai’s (how are you?) straight from my sawatdeekap‘s.

I’d like to reemphasize that I am by far a quick learner when it comes to this kind of stuff and I also have a pretty short attention span. I can’t help but think that someone similar who is staying in Thailand, starts with a decent teacher and has the gumption to study on their own even just an hour a day could approach a medium-to-high level of proficiency in the same amount of time, especially if it was one of their sole purposes for coming to the country.

This all might seem like a lot of words just to say: “You can learn Thai if you actually try!”, but given the language’s reputation (well, half of it), I hope it can convince someone on the fence that if they go about it in a way that makes sense to them, learning Thai can actually be gluay gluay and an extremely rewarding experience.

Kick Coverage, Week 4: There was no shank, Beatrice. Look right here.

Back To The 2017 College Football Kicker Tracker>>>

Image credit: Travis Bell/Sideline Carolina

Kick Coverage, Week 4

After UCONN’s Michael Tarbutt missed a would-be game-tying field goal at the end of Monday’s make up game against East Carolina, Huskies linebacker Junior Joseph said to the media, “As soon as I leave this building, I will forget about the game.”

While his point was more that the team shouldn’t dwell on the loss, forgetting is a luxury that doesn’t always come easy to kickers—just ask South Carolina’s Parker White. The walk-on’s performance has been heavily scrutinized this year, especially after he missed twice in the first half during Saturday’s scrap with Louisiana Tech. Entering the fourth quarter, he had yet to make a field goal on the year (0/4).

When he was called upon to try a 21-yard chip shot that would put the Cocks up one with just seconds left, White had not only the kick to face, but his memory.

“It’s tough. We don’t have the Men in Black little thing to erase our memory. It’s going to be in the back of your head. You just have to do your best to forget. I had people come up to me on the sideline after the second kick just telling me to forget about it.”

Whether it was the pep talks or someone did actually neuralyze him, it worked:

Kicker of the Week:

Trevor Moore, North Texas – 4/4 FG: 29, 40, 45, 22 (GW); 4/4 XPs

Four kickers this week went 4/4 or better on field goals, but the only one whose contributions didn’t come in a blowout were Trevor Moore’s of North Texas. The senior from Edmond, Oklahoma hit 40 and 45-yarders early in the fourth quarter that helped give the Mean Green a 14-point lead. After UAB surged back to tie the game with 0:27 remaining, a solid UNT kick return and then a 34-yard rush put Moore in position to win the game from what would amount to not much more than a PAT. Conveniently, Moore has hit every single extra point in his career (116/116), and he showed that consistency one more time by hitting this 22-yarder for the eventual win:

A four-year starter, Moore is 6 for 7 on the year after hitting between 64-69% of his attempts the past two seasons. Prior to arriving in Denton, Moore was first-team All-Oklahoma his senior year of high school and ranked No. 21 in Kohl’s Kicking Camps Class of 2014.

Extra Points:

1) I might as well just reserve this space as the Matt Gay tracker. The nation’s current leader in nearly every field goal kicking category continued his amazing maiden season by going 3/3 (41, 26, 37) in Utah’s 30-24 win over Arizona on Friday night.

The former Olympic development soccer player has 56 points on the year, which already puts him nearly halfway to the single-season school record of 122 by Louie Sakoda in 2008.

2) The latest school to have fallen into a kicker-by-committee situation is Texas Tech. After preseason All-Big 12 selection Clayton Hatfield was reduced to taking only PATs due to a hip injury, junior Michael Barden and freshman Michael Ewton were put on field goal duty. Barden is 2/2 with a long of 47 over the past two weeks while Ewton went 1/3 on Saturday, missing from 31 and 33 in Tech’s 27-24 win over Houston.

Given the range and accuracy Barden has already displayed (albeit in a small sample size), it’s interesting then that head coach Kliff Kingsbury seems content on continuing with the two-kicker system: “We have two guys, and we have confidence in both,” Kingsbury said in his post-game comments. “Obviously, Ewton missed a couple that we’ve got to be able to make, but Barden’s struck the ball well, so we’ll see moving forward if that’s going to be his job or not. We’ll continue to have them compete, and hopefully we can feel comfortable with the combination of both at some point.”

3) Down in FCS, Northern Colorado’s Collin Root is having a hell of a year. Already the owner of a 56-yard make (which would tie for longest this season in FBS) earlier this year and at least one in high school, Root further padded his mom’s scrapbook with this game-winning 37 yarder against Idaho State:

A redshirt sophomore, Root was previously a walk-on at Wyoming.

Doink of the Week:

Just when we thought Week 4 was going have even more kicker heroics, sophomore Michael Tarbutt pushed his potential game-tying 33 yarder wide right as time expired on Monday afternoon.

Tarbitt broke down his miss after the game, citing faulty mechanics:

“My plant got a bit close. It forced me to kind of keep my hips closed, and I just pushed the ball.”

Way-Too-Early Groza Predictions: 

Much like the past few weeks, we are still without a clear third finalist. Gay is still unquestionably the favorite and I feel pretty comfortable keeping Nordin locked into the #2 spot even though his field goal kicking foot remained idle this past weekend.

Whereas in the past few weeks no one seemed worthy of the third finalist spot, way too many do this week. Toledo’s Jameson Vest added a 49-yarder to his previously short, but still 11/12 resume; Emilio Nadelman’s big day make him and his 8/9 tally hard to ignore (even though his longest is ‘only’ 44); and Cole Murphy is quietly having a 8/9 year with three from 40-49 up at Syracuse.

But because the Groza panelists probably aren’t completely rational actors, if the season ended today I still think they’d send pre-season favorite Daniel Carlson to Palm Beach for the third consecutive year. That’s not to say the senior doesn’t deserve it–in a 3/3 day on Saturday, Carlson was successful from 52 and 54 yards out, making him 8/11 overall and 3/4 from 50+ on the year.

  1. Matt Gay, Utah (14/14 FGs, 2/2 from 50+, 14/14 XPs)
  2. Quinn Nordin, Michigan (11/13 FGs, 2/3 from 50+, 13/13 XPs)
  3. Daniel Carlson, Auburn (8/11 FGs, 3/4 from 50+, 14/14 XPs)

Long Ball Leaderboard Through Week 4:

Twenty-seven made field goals this year have come from 50 or longer. Nearly 40% of those came this past weekend. I’d say everyone is beginning to find their groove.

Rk.NameSchoolDistanceWeek, Opp.
1Matt GayUtah563, San Jose St.
T2Alex KessmanPittsburgh554, at Georgia Tech
Quinn NordinMichigan551, Florida
T4Daniel CarlsonAuburn544, at Missouri
Greg JosephFlorida Atlantic541, Navy
T6Matt AmmendolaOklahoma St.532, at So. Alabama
Bryce CrawfordSan Jose St.534, Utah State
Matthew McCraneKansas State531, Central Arkansas
Jason SandersNew Mexico534, at Tulsa
Brady VilesUTEP533, Arizona
T11Jonathan BarnesLouisiana Tech524, at South Carolina
Aaron BoumheriTemple523, UMASS
Daniel CarlsonAuburn524, at Missouri
Dominik EberleUtah State524, at San Jose St.
Evan RabonCoastal Carolina524, Western Illinois
Brandon RuizArizona St.521, New Mexico St.
T17Brent CimagliaTennessee513, at Florida
Bryce CrawfordSan Jose St.513, at Utah
Griffin OakesIndiana512, at Virginia
T20Michael BadgleyMiami (FL)501, Bethune-Cookman
Daniel CarlsonAuburn501, Georgia Southern
Matt GayUtah503, San Jose St.
Redford JonesTulsa504, New Mexico
Austin MacGinnisKentucky504, Florida
Quinn NordinMichigan501, Florida
Joey SlyeVirginia Tech502, Delaware
Luke StrebelAir Force503, at Michigan

Kicker Survivor Leaderboard Through Week 4:

And then there were 30. Thirteen more kickers missed an FGA this weekend, some on their first attempt of the year. While Matt Gay’s streak looked untouchable as recently as last week, a miss soon from him and more big days from Mike Weaver and Dominik Eberle (like they had this past weekend) would put them in sound position to challenge the current leader.

Eliminated this week (school, streak): Colton Lichtenberg (Boston College, 6); Michael Rubino (App. State, 5); Louie Zervos (Ohio, 5); Samuel Sloman (Miami OH, 4); Miguel Recinos (Iowa, 3); Connor Martin (Baylor, 2); Tom O’Leary (Akron, 2); Henry Darmstadter (Maryland, 1); Michael Ewton (Texas Tech, 1); Calvin Linden (Louisiana-Lafayette, 0); Evan Legassey (Troy, 0); Daniel Gutierrez (UNLV, 0); Lucas Havrisik (Arizona, 0). 

14Matt GayUtah
8Mike WeaverWake Forest
8Dominik EberleUtah St.
7Sean NuernbergerOhio St.
7Jake SuderBGSU
7Jet TonerStanford
6Wyatt BryanColorado St.
5Blanton CrequeLouisville
5Bryce CrawfordSan Jose St.
4Haden HoggarthBoise St.
4Jace ChristmannMississippi St.
4Greg JosephFlorida Atlantic
4Redford JonesTulsa
4Jared SackettUTSA
3Spencer PettitNevada
3Jonathan SongTCU
3Nick VogelUAB
3Michael BadgleyMiami (FL)
3Griffin OakesIndiana
3Spencer SmithMemphis
2Dylan BrownNew Mexico St.
2Stevie ArtigueLouisiana
2Michael BardenTexas Tech
2Canon RookerMTSU
1Matt CoghlinMichigan St.
1Craig FordLa Monroe
1Coby NeenanTulane
1Riley PattersonMemphis
1Michael SmithUtah St.
1Brady VilesUTEP

Game Winners (Under 1:00 to play) :

In addition to the two mentioned above, there was a third FBS late game-winner came on Saturday. A a 53-yarder by New Mexico’s Jason Sanders, it was by far the longest winner on the year thus far:

Sanders is having as great a run as almost any kicker in the country, making 18 of his last 20 between 2017 and 2016. The game-winner against Tulsa was his career long.

An ongoing list of the season’s de facto game winners can be found on the season hub page.

Back To The 2017 College Football Kicker Tracker>>>

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Kick Coverage, Week 3

Despite there some superb kicking performances in Week 3, the one who got the most attention was Tyler Hopkins of Texas Lutheran (DIII):

While the play wasn’t explicitly legal, the kick stood (apparently double kicks aren’t reviewable plays, let alone at the DIII level). Expect clarification in the NCAA rulebook to come this offseason—for now, we’ll proactively call it The Hopkins Rule.

My favorite part is that the Belhaven players look so confused by the circumstances of the play, they aren’t sure if protesting is appropriate or not.

Kicker of the Week:

Matt Gay, Utah – 4/4 FG: 21, 56, 50, 20; 6/6 XPs

If there were any lingering doubts about Matt Gay’s ability or range, those were silenced on Saturday. In Utah’s 54-16 win over San Jose State, the former Utah Valley University soccer player hit a 56-yarder from nearly on top of the Utes’ mid-field logo:

The kick was the second-longest in school history (59 yards from a tee, Marv Bateman in 1971) and marks the first time a Utah player has made two 50+ yarders in the same game. It’s also the FBS’ current longest make. Additionally, the senior leads Kicker Nation in points, field goals made (tied), field goal percentage (tied), field goals made from 40+, and field goals made from 50+.

Extra Points:

1) Perhaps the only kicker in America right now as hot as Gay (kicking-wise) remains Michigan’s Quinn Nordin. From five field goals and two extra points, Nordin accrued 17 points on Saturday, or nearly 60% of the Wolverines’ offense during their 29-13 win over Air Force. This is hardly an anomaly for the week, as on the season Nordin has accounted for 42 of UM’s 98 points (42.9%). His 11 field goals made are well on pace to shatter the school record of 25, set by Remy Hamilton in 1994. Before the game, he did this too:


2) If this week was supposed to clear up the placekicking situation at Tennesssee, Saturday in the Swamp may have just made things murkier. After going the first two weeks without having to attempt a field goal, head coach Butch Jones tried out both senior Aaron Medley and freshman Brent Cimaglia during the Vols’ heartbreaking loss to Florida. The latter got the call first, making a 51-yarder just before halftime (his first collegiate attempt).

But after missing one from the same distance in the 3rd and one from 47 before that, Medley was called upon for the next two attempts, missing from 44 and making from 27. Based on Jones’ postgame comments, it appears that the two-pronged approach will remain intact for now, with Cimaglia taking the longer attempts and Medley (9/26 from 40+ in his career) taking the chip shots.

3) The effectiveness of icing (kickers, not bros) is oft-debated, but on Saturday it worked for James Franklin and Penn State (nevermind that the Nittany Lions were up 56-0 in the game’s final seconds). After the unconventional timeout, Georgia State’s Brandon Wright missed the 31-yard attempt to preserve the PSU shutout. In Franklin’s defense (sort of), he said his intention wasn’t to try and shake up redshirt sophomore Wright (who was 1/1 on the season up to that point):

WFAN’s Mike Francesca didn’t exactly buy it, calling Franklin a ‘horse’s ass’ and ‘absolute disgrace’, among other compliments.

4) Gary Wunderlich was shut down in the second quarter of Ole Miss’ loss at Cal on Saturday and did not return. Other than that the issue was with his hamstring, there’s been no word on the condition of the senior that went 22/23 on FGs last season. Wunderlich and the Rebels will enjoy a bye this coming weekend.

Doink of the Week:

Walk-on and redshirt freshman Michael Schreiner was thrust into UMASS’ placekicking role earlier than expected this year after junior Mike Caggiano and senior (punter) Logan Laurent both accrued injuries. On Friday night, Schreiner missed from 23, 39, and 32 in the Minutemen’s 29-21 loss to Temple. That makes Schreiner 0/4 for field goals on the year, though a small silver lining is that he’s yet to miss a PAT (13/13).

While coach Mark Whipple said he was ‘surprised’ considering how well Schreiner had been performing in practice, others on the team were more outspoken in their support for the Webster, NY native:

“Schreiner will be good, he’s our guy,” senior linebacker Steve Casali said. “The whole team has Schreiner’s back and he’ll be good. Schreiner is one of the mentally toughest kids I’ve met in my life, so he’ll be fine. He’ll bounce back from this, without a doubt.”

Way-Too-Early Groza Predictions: 

It’s a two-horse race at this early, early point. Eventually, I’d like to go back and see how the Groza pollsters have voted in extremely tight races (if there have been any). At a glance, the award has gone overwhelmingly to those at Power 5 schools which wouldn’t make a difference in the Gay vs. Nordin battle we have going on. However, just twice has an underclassman won the award (FSU freshman Roberto Aguayo in 2013 and Cincinnati sophomore Jonathan Ruffin in 2000), which is why I shuffled the top two for this week. And as fun everyone’s been having with Nordin’s story, Gay’s is arguably even better.

Third place could be any one of about 6-10 kickers all having equally-successful seasons. While I’d like to see a G5 player represent in December, I imagine in such a close case it would be a more-exposed (TV-wise) kicker that gets the panel’s nod:

  1. Matt Gay, Utah (11/11 FGs, 2/2 from 50+, 11/11 XPs)
  2. Quinn Nordin, Michigan (11/13 FGs, 2/3 from 50+, 9/9 XPs)
  3. Matt Ammendola, Oklahoma State (5/7 FGs, 2/3 from 40+, 21/21 XPs)

Long Ball Leaderboard Through Week 3:

After just three weeks, it now takes a 50+ yarder to crack the longest field goal leaderboard. This week we see a couple of new faces/feet, while the new cutoff leaves just Gay and Nordin (who else?) as the only two to occupy two spots.

Gay’s 56-yarder would have finished as the second-longest make last season.

Rk.NameSchoolDistanceWeek, Opp.
1Matt GayUtah563, San Jose St.
2Quinn NordinMichigan551, Florida
3Greg JosephFlorida Atlantic541, Navy
T4Matt AmmendolaOklahoma St.532, at So. Alabama
Matthew McCraneKansas State531, Central Arkansas
Brady VilesUTEP533, Arizona
T7Aaron BoumheriTemple523, UMASS
Brandon RuizArizona St.521, New Mexico St.
T9Brent CimagliaTennessee513, at Florida
Bryce CrawfordSan Jose St.513, at Utah
Griffin OakesIndiana512, at Virginia
T12Michael BadgleyMiami (FL)501, Bethune-Cookman
Daniel CarlsonAuburn501, Georgia Southern
Matt GayUtah503, San Jose St.
Quinn NordinMichigan501, Florida
Joey SlyeVirginia Tech502, Delaware
Luke StrebelAir Force503, at Michigan

Kicker Survivor Leaderboard Through Week 3:

Twenty-four kickers biffed themselves out of Kicker Survivor this weekend by recording their first misses of the season. Remaining with perfect track records on the season is just 34, though nearly half that number only have 1-2 attempts to their name. Like he’s done with his kicking game overall this season, Matt Gay has raised the bar quickly and early, giving himself a comfy lead on the pack even if he were to miss his next attempt.

Eliminated this week (school, streak): John Baron II (SDSU, 6), Josh Williams (SMU, 5), Garrett Owens (Iowa St., 4), Jimmy Camacho (Fresno St., 3), Austin Parker (Duke, 3), Erik Powell (Washington St., 3), Jason Sanders (New Mexico, 3), Drew Brown (Nebraska, 2), Spencer Evans ( Purdue, 2), Trevor Moore (North Texas, 2), Nick Rice (Old Dominion, 2), Luke Strebel (Air Force, 2), Sawyer Williams (Arkansas St., 2), Evan Brown (Coastal Carolina, 2), Will Harrison (Rice, 1), Emilio Nadelman (South Florida, 1), Ryan Nuss (Western Kentucky, 1), Brandon Wright (Georgia St., 1), Aaron Medley (Tennessee, 1), Brent Cimgalia (Tennessee, 1), Chase McGrath (USC, 0), JK Scott (Alabama, 0), Luke Logan (Ole Miss, 0), Parker White (South Carolina, 0).

11Matt GayUtah
6Wyatt BryanColorado St.
6Sean NuernbergerOhio St.
6Colton LichtenbergBoston College
6Mike WeaverWake Forest
5Blanton CrequeLouisville
5Jake SuderBGSU
4Haden HoggarthBoise St.
4Dominik EberleUtah St.
4Samuel SlomanMiami (OH)
4Jet TonerStanford
4Michael RubinoApp. State
4Bryce CrawfordSan Jose St.
3Jace ChristmannMississippi St.
3Spencer PettitNevada
3Greg JosephFlorida Atlantic
3Miguel RecinosIowa
3Nick VogelUAB
3Louie ZervosOhio
2Michael BadgleyMiami (FL)
2Redford JonesTulsa
2Connor MartinBaylor
2Griffin OakesIndiana
2Dylan BrownNew Mexico St.
1Stevie ArtigueLouisiana
1Michael BardenTexas Tech
1Craig FordLa Monroe
1Tom O'LearyArkansas
1Coby NeenanTulane
1Canon RookerMTSU
1Jared SackettUTSA
1Michael SmithUtah St.
1Spencer SmithMemphis
1Brady VilesUTEP

Game Winners (Under 1:00 to play) :

Freshman Chase McGrath did this to Texas in overtime (43 yards):

Not bad for your second career attempt.

At about the same time, Louisiana Tech’s Jonathan Barnes registered the season’s third game winner, all but downing Western Kentucky with this 21-yarder that left just :02 on the clock:

An ongoing list of the season’s de facto game winners can be found on the season hub page.

Back To The 2017 College Football Kicker Tracker>>>

See something wrong or have an idea, suggestion, or gripe? Let me know. Also, follow @cfbstats on Twitter for barely-regular updates.

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