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Norwegian kicker dreams of NFL after viral video

Norwegian kicker dreams of NFL after viral video

Aside from his ability to boot the ball through the uprights from almost kind of angle or distance, Havard Rugland is a complete stranger to the American version of football.

And yet the 28-year-old Norwegian, without having played a single game at any level of the sport, is suddenly pursuing a shot at making it to the NFL. And it's all because of a YouTube video.

Sound incredible? Well, so are some of the kicks and tricks Rugland can pull off with his powerful left leg.

That's why the video he put together for some friends has turned him into an Internet sensation, with 2 million views and counting. And that's why the same video turned into an inadvertent auditioning tape - earning him a tryout last month with the New York Jets.

At a time when people are increasingly taking to social media to showcase their talent, Rugland might be on the verge of going from viral-video-of-the-week to pro athlete.

``I never would have thought it would come to this,'' he said during a recent phone interview from his home in southern Norway. ``I put the film up mostly for friends and family. But as it turns out, there were a lot more people who liked it. It's overwhelming.''

Must be, for someone whose only previous experience with football was the European soccer version, and who has only a sketchy familiarity with the rules of the American game. Living in Aalgaard, a town with less than 10,000 people, he started kicking for fun about a year ago after his local soccer club shut down and he needed another outlet.

Having seen other online videos of people doing tricks with Frisbees and basketballs, he figured he'd make one with footballs to showcase his booming leg. He posted it online in mid-September, and three months later he was auditioning for the Jets.

So what is it about his four-minute video - ``Kickalicious'' - that has people so impressed? Well, the footage of him kicking field goals from 60 yards and soccer-style volleys through the uprights is the least of it.

His more spectacular repertoire includes kicking the ball into a basketball hoop - nothing but net - and into the arms of people in moving cars, floating down a lake in a boat, or atop a hill. For his grand finale, he casually punts one football into the air, then kicks a second ball off a tee so it hits the first one in midair.

``I'm probably the most satisfied with the last kick, which is the one I've received the most compliments about,'' Rugland said. ``I needed eight tries before I pulled it off.''

He insists there was no trickery with the actual filming - done with two brothers and a friend - but said he needed several attempts to pull off some of the other kicks as well. When local media picked up his story, a Norwegian broadcaster reviewed the video to make sure it was real, silencing some skeptics who believed it must have been doctored.

And unlike so many other posted videos, interest in Rugland's kicks only grew.

While it was racking up hits in the hundreds of thousands, Rugland received an email from Scott Cohen, assistant general manager of the Jets, who was interested in giving him a workout.

Rugland wondered if he was being scammed.

``When I received that, obviously I was excited, but I had to check out the name and email address to make sure it was genuine, and not some friend who was pulling a prank,'' he said.

It was real. The Jets were genuinely interested - on the condition that Rugland spend some time with a kicking coach first to hone his skills. So the week after Thanksgiving, the Norwegian traveled to California to spend a few weeks with Michael Husted - a former NFL kicker who now runs a training camp in San Diego and had reached out to Rugland after seeing his video on a Facebook page.

Husted said he's often approached by soccer players interested in trying their hand - or foot, rather - at kicking field goals, hoping to become the next Sebastian Janikowski. But he had seen enough of Rugland in the video to know he was special.

``He's definitely the most impressive nonfootball kicker that I've worked with,'' Husted said by phone. ``When he hits it, it's going to go. He hits it just as high, just as far as a lot of the NFL kickers, if not further.''

In fact, Husted sees a lot of similarities between Rugland and Janikowski, the Oakland Raiders kicker from Poland. They're both left-footed, more than 6 feet tall and have the same kind of leg strength.

Rugland's video shows him hitting field goals from 60 yards with ease. The NFL record - shared by Janikowski and three others - is 63 yards.

Rugland thinks he could hit one from ``well beyond'' 60, and Husted said that's very possible.

``Heck, if he's in Denver he can probably hit it from 65,'' Husted said.

The Jets liked what they saw enough to invite Rugland back for a second audition in March.

Meantime, he wants to spend more time with Husted to refine his technique and consistency, and he's looking for a sponsor to help pay for another stay in San Diego since he would need to take an unpaid leave of absence from his job as a youth counselor for the local child protective services.

Training on his own isn't so easy these days, given the winter climate in Norway.

``It's hard to get better when you're practicing in the snow,'' he said.

Husted has put him in touch with an agent, Jill McBride Baxter, who is trying to get him back in the U.S.

``It's not easy,'' said the Los Angeles-based McBride Baxter, whose other NFL clients include Jets punter Robert Malone and Miami Dolphins wide receiver Marlon Moore. ``He's got a life in Norway. He works with youth. He's got a job. He's got a dog.''

He also still has a lot to work on. Power is one thing, but getting timing and technique right is equally important. Before working with Husted, Rugland had never kicked with a snap and hold.

And, of course, it remains to be seen whether Rugland can perform as well in a game situation. Some current NFL players, who had watched his video online, weren't so sure.

``It's a cool video,'' Arizona Cardinals kicker Jay Feely said, ``but I don't know if it necessarily translates to kicking field goals consistently in a timed, pressurized environment.''

New York Giants punter Steve Weatherford agreed.

``I think he's talented, but there's a different dynamic when you have a video camera and 1,000 chances versus when there's 80,000 people screaming at you (at a game) and you only have one shot,'' Weatherford said. ``You can't teach that skill.''

Rugland, though, said he thinks his Scandinavian nerves can handle the pressure.

``It's hard to say before you've experienced it,'' he said. ``But I imagine it will be a bit like a penalty kick in soccer. I was under a lot pressure during the (Jets) tryout, and a lot of people would freeze up at something like that because there's a lot of people watching you. But that went well, so I think I have good chances of handling it.''

The Jets may not be Rugland's only hope of making the NFL. Husted said the Raiders, Green Bay Packers and Philadelphia Eagles have also contacted him for scouting reports. He said the ``ideal situation'' for the Norwegian may be to get picked up on the practice squad by one team and spend a year honing his skills - the same route taken by Australian punter Darren Bennett in the 1990s.

Bennett was an Australian Rules football player who was given a workout by the San Diego Chargers during his honeymoon in California, and ended up becoming one of the top punters in the NFL.

Rugland thinks he can make a similar journey.

``If you have the quality that's required, you'll get the chance,'' he said. ``I probably have to prove a bit more than others, and impress people a bit more. Those I'm competing against have played in the NFL for several years, or at least played in high school and college. But I believe in it myself, that if everything goes perfectly then it is a realistic chance. Although it's still a long way to go.''

And if things don't work out with the NFL. Rugland's YouTube video may at least turn into a different kind of film.

Husted said he was contacted by a producer.

``He thinks there may be a movie in this,'' he said.

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Online:

Rugland's video:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jDwbjHV8jLo

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AP Sports Writers Ben Walker and Dennis Waszak Jr. in New York contributed to this report.

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Dmitrij Jaskin's year goes from bad to worse as his former team prepares to play in Stanley Cup Final

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Dmitrij Jaskin's year goes from bad to worse as his former team prepares to play in Stanley Cup Final

Dmitrij Jaskin had a tough year. He played in only 37 games for the Capitals and scored only two goals and six assists. He seemed to struggle to earn the trust of head coach Todd Reirden and did not play a single game in the playoffs.

A tough year just got a little bit worse for Jaskin as now he will watch his former team, the St. Louis Blues, play in the Stanley Cup Final starting Monday.

Jaskin was a member of the Blues through training camp, but was a surprise addition to the Caps’ roster just one day before the start of the regular season. Frustrated with his lack of opportunities in St. Louis, Jaskin requested a trade and the Blues placed him on waivers. With Tom Wilson still awaiting word on how long his suspension would be for his hit to Oskar Sundqvist in the preseason, Washington claimed Jaskin off waivers for more forward depth.

Though Jaskin was an established NHL player with over 250 games of experience and 25 goals, he was used sparingly by Reirden. Jaskin seemed to play well when given the opportunity, but showed a lack of finish offensively that earned him the ire of the coaches. Any mistakes would see him taken out of the lineup completely.

“Obviously it was disappointing,” Jaskin said of his season. “I thought it would be better, but you always gain some experience from another season. It's over with and there's nothing I can do about it, just can get ready for next season and look forward to it.”

Though his individual situation was challenging, Jaskin looked like he was in a much better position for a deep playoff run than his former squad. The Caps were the defending Stanley Cup champions and would go on to win the Metropolitan Division while the Blues were in last place in the entire NHL as late in the season as Jan. 3. The two teams suffered a reversal in fortune in the postseason as Washington was bounced out of the first round by the Carolina Hurricanes. St. Louis eliminated the Winnipeg Jets in six games, won a Game 7 thriller in double overtime against the Dallas Stars and closed out the San Jose Sharks with three straight wins in the conference finals.

“I wish them all the best,” Jaskin said following the first round. “I think it's pretty impressive that they won against Winnipeg. Now, as you see, everybody's got the same chances. A lot of upsets this year and I think they have a pretty good chance to go far.”

Luckily for Jaskin, he did manage to find some playing time this summer in the World Championship tournament playing with the Czech Republic.  He has scored two goals and two assists in nine games and will play for the bronze medal on Sunday.

After that, his future remains unclear. Jaskin is a restricted free agent meaning the Caps will have a chance to retain his rights and his playing in Worlds seems to indicate he is secure in his position. At the same time, he was used sparingly enough throughout the season that whether the team will offer him a qualifying offer remains a question.

“I'll love to stay,” Jaskin said. “I love it here, guys are great and the organization and the city, everything's good. I would like to stay, but we'll see.”

For now, however, Jaskin will have to sit and watch to see whether his old team, the team he requested a trade from, will hoist the Stanley Cup.

“Obviously it's frustrating to not keep on playing and watch them play,” Jaskin said, “But as I said I wish them all the best and I think they have a pretty good chance.”

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Patrick Corbin shuts out the Marlins, Nationals win second straight

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Patrick Corbin shuts out the Marlins, Nationals win second straight

WASHINGTON -- The Washington Nationals beat the Miami Marlins, 5-0, Saturday to raise their record to 21-31. Here are five observations from the game...

1. Good defense Saturday.

A simplistic thing, yet perversely elusive this season for the Nationals.

Washington committed no errors. It turned three double-plays, allowing the bullpen to be used for just three outs. Brian Dozier made two quality plays -- including snagging a line . Trea Turner charged a ground and used his jump throw to gain an out. Anthony Rendon charged a ground and used his smoothness to throw to first for another. Adam Eaton made a nice sliding catch.

Friday was nasty in the field. The Nationals committed three errors, should have been charged with four. Turner committed two (and would have been the recipient of a third if not for generous scoring). Manager Davey Martinez was not pleased with what he called “sloppy” play Friday. They clean it up Saturday.

2. Corbin was back for the eighth inning, starting with 89 pitches behind him and a run of retiring 16 out of 17.

Miami did not use one left-handed hitter Saturday. The strategy mattered little to Corbin, who picked up three double plays on the day and closed the eighth with a strikeout of Bryan Holaday.

Corbin was removed just five innings into his last start after throwing 98 pitches. Manager Davey Martinez said then the Nationals wanted to keep Corbin under 100 pitches three starts after he threw a career-high 118 pitches and was on a run of throwing at least 107 pitches.

Saturday, he finished the eighth at 103. Corbin hit for himself, despite two runners on base with two out, and came back out for the ninth. A strikeout, flyout and groundout followed.

In all, four hits, no runs, one walk and five strikeouts on 116 pitches.

3. The fourth inning had a little bit of everything Saturday. Adam Eaton committed a major running gaffe. Juan Soto ran from third on a contact play, stopped just short of home plate, then veered left and slid in safe. Victor Robles squared to bunt and leaned in. A 96-mph fastball came up and in, grazed his cheek and sent him to the ground. Team trainer Paul Lessard and manager Davey Martinez immediately ran out at the behest of home plate umpire Tim Timmons. Robles was OK, went to first, then later scored from first base on a single to shallow right.

The Nationals scored five runs in the inning to jolt what was a scoreless game. Eaton’s running mistake -- he made a hard turn at second base, then was hung up in a rundown -- carried the start of the inning. But, Yan Gomes’ squibber to right field redeemed Eaton by scoring three.

4. Sean Doolittle stood at his locker Friday night in case the media wanted to talk to him postgame following his second consecutive rough outing. Reporters took a pass -- no need to talk to a player every time they have a bad night -- and Doolittle went to the back for his postgame maintenance.

His two outings this week vaulted his ERA up almost two runs, from 1.71 to 3.68, before Saturday’s game.

Martinez said Doolittle’s recent bumps are not health-related, despite a downtick in velocity. Doolittle was throwing around 92 mph Friday. He hit 94 mph, but his velocity was down for the most part.

“Credit to Doolittle,” Martinez said. “He knows his stuff wasn’t what he wanted it to be [Friday], but he fought through it. That’s what a good closer does sometimes. I’ve got all the confidence and faith in the world...He knows what he needs to do. When you have a guy like that, and a closer like that, they know how to work out their [issues] when they’re struggling, some of his spin rate stuff he’s going to look at. The biggest thing is I don’t want him to start thinking there’s something wrong with him. I told him that [Friday]: ‘You’re one of the best. You’re an elite closer. It’s OK. Guys go through that.

5. The Nationals called up right-handed reliever James Borque from Double-A Harrisburg on Saturday. Joe Ross, who allowed three earned runs in his Friday appearance and has a 9.22 ERA, was sent to Triple-A Fresno.

Borque arrives after quality work in Harrisburg: a 1.33 ERA, 33 strikeouts in 20 1/3 innings. This is his first time on the major league roster. Borque believes better fastball command led to his success and subsequent call-up.

Ross lost the bite on his slider despite showing flashes of being an effective reliever. He will be "stretched out" in Fresno, though he is unlikely to be ready when the Nationals need a spot start April 29 in Atlanta. Kyle McGowin pitched in place of injured Anibal Sanchez (left hamstring strain) Friday. He allowed five earned runs in four innings and is unlikely to receive another opportunity.

Sanchez threw 41 pitches in a simulated game Friday. He felt well Saturday. Sanchez is expected to throw a bullpen session Sunday and make a rehabilitation start Wednesday.

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