FRISCO, Texas (AP)Dallas Cowboys kicker Brandon Aubrey was watching on TV nine months ago when Brett Maher, his predecessor, missed four consecutive extra points in a playoff game.
The former Major League Soccer prospect who never kicked in high school or college was four years into working toward what he hoped would be a new profession, unaware that his biggest opportunity was just months away – with his hometown team, no less.
Then the 28-year-old rookie shanked his first kick in the NFL – a PAT, of course. Aubrey hasn’t missed since.
“Maybe when I feel like he’s got a pretty good chance is when he missed the first PAT and he came back and made the next one and the next one and the next field goal and the next field goal,” special teams coordinator John Fassel said. “What a great sign to miss your very first attempt and not freak out.”
Aubrey is 16 of 16 on field goals, two shy of the NFL record for consecutive makes to start a career set by Travis Coons with Cleveland eight years ago.
The record will be in range when the Cowboys (4-2) play the Los Angeles Rams at home Oct. 29, after their bye week. Fassel is already skittish about those questions.
“I’m trying to kind of just lay low with it,” the coach said.
That’s what Fassel was doing in June when he went to see Aubrey kick for the Birmingham Stallions during Aubrey’s second season in the USFL. A former NFL punter saw Fassel, so the secret was out.
Or maybe there wasn’t much of a secret in the first place, since Fassel felt the need to get on the field for a closer look at an intriguing prospect.
“I tried to stay out of the way,” Fassel said, “but even a tall, skinny, ugly guy stands out.”
The Cowboys stuck with Maher through the 31-14 wild-card win over Tampa Bay last January, and the 19-12 loss to San Francisco in the divisional round, when Maher had another PAT blocked.
Owner and general manager Jerry Jones said after the season the club intended to move on at kicker, which led to Fassel’s “stealth operation” in Alabama, and now to Aubrey’s somewhat unique status.
“It would be my third time, technically, being a rookie,” Aubrey said. “Being a rookie with MLS, rookie with the USFL, rookie here. I know what it feels like to be a rookie.”
Aubrey went to high school in the Dallas suburb of Plano and played on the Dallas Texans, the club soccer program that produced retired U.S. national team star Clint Dempsey.
After a career at Notre Dame that included a national championship as a freshman, Aubrey was a first-round draft pick by Toronto FC in 2017 with a listed salary of $75,000.
Less than two years later, having already been released by that club and the Philadelphia Union, he faced the prospect of making half that in yet another year in the second tier of MLS.
Instead, he took a job as a software engineer not far from AT&T Stadium, the home of the Dallas Cowboys.
Not long after choosing family and earning power over trying to push the soccer career further, Aubrey and his wife were watching a football game when she essentially said, of kicking, “Hey, you can do that.”
After a couple of years of working with kicking coaches and attending scouting combines, Aubrey was the last of six kickers picked in the 2022 USFL draft.
Not long after Fassel’s trip to Birmingham, Aubrey signed a $2.7 million, three-year contract, with no guaranteed money and a $750,000 salary for this season.
He opened training camp competing with Tristan Vizcaino, who was brought in as a midweek addition last season after Maher’s four consecutive PAT misses but didn’t kick against the Niners.
The Cowboys released Vizcaino before the end of camp, clearing the way for Aubrey, who said the MLS experience taught him not to be afraid to fail.
“I would say the only time I had a different approach was in MLS. That didn’t really work out too well for me,” Aubrey said. “I was a little bit scared and nervous there. Didn’t really feel like I belonged.”
There’s little question of belonging now.
Aubrey’s first moment hinting at drama with Dallas came Monday night against the Los Angeles Chargers, when he made a 39-yarder for a 20-17 lead with 2:19 remaining.
The defense turned it into a game-winner with Stephon Gilmore’s interception, and quarterback Dak Prescott revealed Aubrey’s nickname when asked about the kicker after the game.
“Butter,” as in smooth, said Prescott, who has known of Aubrey for years because the kicker trains with one of Prescott’s best friends.
“He’s an athlete playing kicker,” Prescott said. “He’s been a professional. He’s mature as hell. Just butter with it, smooth. No surprise.”
And it’s no surprise Aubrey understands the fickle nature of kicking even without experiencing it himself yet in the NFL. After all, he watched Maher melt down after a great 2022 season with Dallas.
“Any time you see a guy struggle on TV, you feel for him,” Aubrey said. “Especially being in that position, feeling that could have been you.”
The harsh reality is, it still could be.
After making his first 18 field goals for the Browns in 2015, Coons didn’t have a job in Cleveland a year later, and was out of football not long after that.
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