CEDAR FALLS — His coach told him to, “Go big.”
Austin Errthum did not need to be told a second time.
Taking a couple quick steps, Errthum hammered his powerful left leg forward with his foot hitting the football with a thud. Up, up and away went the ball ... 20 yards, 30 yards, 50 yards and through the uprights for a successful 58-yard try.
At the time, that 2012 kick against Clear-Creek Amana was the third-longest field goal in Iowa state high school history.
“Coach didn’t care if I made it or missed it as long as it got to the end zone,” said Errthum, now a senior kicker at the University of Northern Iowa. “If I missed it, it would end up like a punt that got to the end zone and they’d get it at the 20.
“So, I really just went for it. It was a nice, warm night and I got a good snap and hold. I just kind of blasted it through. It cleared by six or seven yards. I was definitely excited.”
Errthum was a three-time all-state kicker for Mid-Prairie, making 25 career field goals. But as good as he was as a kicker, Errthum was also a standout on the soccer pitch.
So, when a couple of potential Division I offers to kick fell through, Errthum took an offer from Drake to play soccer and excelled, starting all 19 games in 2014 as a true freshman.
But in the back of his mind, regret kept creeping in.
“It was a fun atmosphere. The soccer guys were great,” Errthum said. “But, I did not want to regret not playing football in college. So, I decided to take happiness over financial, if that makes sense. A lot of people thought I was crazy.”
After his freshman season at Drake, Errthum sent out what he describes as a ton of letters and emails to Division I football programs hoping to find a landing spot.
Exactly one program responded — Northern Iowa.
“Coach (Mark) Farley was the only one, told me I could try out for the team,” Errthum said. “I didn’t get a preferred walk-on offer or anything, just a chance to walk on, and I tried out the second day of school and ended up making the team.
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“It’s kind of a fun story.”
Errthum redshirted in 2015, saw action in nine games as a sophomore when he booted 16 PATs and six field goals and averaged 63.5 yards per kickoff. A year ago, he was three of four on field goals, eventually losing a battle to be the Panthers’ primary placekicker to Sam Drysdale, who went on to make 17 of his 21 attempts.
Errthum was dejected, for sure, but he didn’t let it define him and he went back to work. From the end of last season to the start of this season, Ertthum poured over every detail of his kicking.
The hard work paid off as he won the job in August and has connected on 14 of 17 attempts. He has the fifth-most field goals in the FCS and is a perfect 28 of 28 on PATs.
“I focused on the overall process of kicking,” Errthum said. “Sometimes it doesn’t go your way, but most of the time if the process is right the kick will go in.
“I changed up my form completely from last fall to this spring and just worked on it extensively in the summer.
“Now I start with more pressure on my front foot than my back foot, where I used to start with more pressure on my back foot,” Errthum said. “It’s more like a loading stance ... I pounce more.
“Also, I started closing my hips. You see before my kick, I will do a little twist motion to make sure my hips are closed and I get straight through the ball.”
His efforts to get better have not been lost on his head coach.
“The one thing we want to do around here is if you put in the time, you do the work and you start to have production, not just one day, but over the course of weeks then you are going to get an opportunity to play,” Farley said. “Austin did that. What he did this summer is tremendous and it was not within the eyes of the coaches.
“I think the light went on for him on what he needed to do to own that position.”
Errthum connected on four key field goals in UNI’s 26-16 win over No. 14 Illinois State last week, which earned him Missouri Valley Football Conference special teams player of the week honors.
He had a career-long of 46 against Indiana State earlier this season, as well.