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April Goss, Kent State finally get their chance in Death Valley

There are times when April Goss wishes she could win one of those contest that brings a student on to the football field to attempt a field goal for a shot at scholarship prizes.

“I always wanted to be able to do that somewhere,” she said jokingly.

The funny thing is Goss actually did it. However, her kick counted for more than just a scholarship. She actually scored a point in an FBS game and was a scholarship kicker.

Goss, a second-year graduate student at Clemson that works in the academic learning center for athletes, was once a college kicker for Kent State, the fifth-ranked Tigers’ opening opponent this Saturday in Death Valley. A four-year player for the Golden Flashes, she made an extra point in their 45-13 win over Delaware State on September 12, 2015.

“You think about how hard you work for something and sometimes, you know? How you expect it to be so much more and it is just like … I don’t know,” Goss said. “When I think back to that game and it was so amazing, and I’m so grateful for the opportunity, but that is not the memory I take away the most.”

Instead, says Goss, the memories of how she got to that point is what stands out the most to her. All the hard work from the time when she realized as a sophomore in high school that she wanted to play football, to walking on at Kent State in the spring of 2012, to becoming just the second woman in FBS history to score a point, it’s the journey that she remembers the most.

April Goss was worried how her Kent State teammates might react when she walked on to the team in 2012, but she said from the beginning they embraced her. (Photo courtesy April Goss)

“How did I get so lucky,” Goss asked. “To be on a team where all of my teammates were accepting of me and were family to me, and then to have, not one, but two head coaches that truly took me serious and believed in me.”

Goss’ journey began when she was a sophomore in high school. Though she had played soccer since she was five or six years old, she became bored with the sport and knew she wanted to try something else. However, she was no quitter. She just wasn’t going to quit soccer for some hobby. She wanted to make sure she replaced soccer with something she truly wanted to do.

“I always kind of toyed around with the idea that I was going to play football in my head,” she said. “How fun would that be and all those things, and then it started to dawn on me that I seriously had potential to do it as far as coming from my soccer background and translating that into kicking.”

So Goss asked her dad if she could play football, and of course his initial reaction was no. But Goss did not settle for no. She kept bugging her father until he finally he caved in and gave her permission to go out for her high school team.

At first the two trained together as he took her out to practice, but Goss eventually got things down and even started to know more than her dad. She ultimately made her high school squad and played in a few games over the next two years while kicking extra points.

“Going into my senior year, I realized two years was not enough for me,” Goss said. “I wanted to continue playing in college. That wasn’t anything that I shared with anybody at the time, but I knew no matter what, I was going to find a way to get on the team and so for me, the idea of playing on a Division I team was super exciting and going to a large school was something that was appealing to me.”

Goss, who is from Aliquippa, Pa., narrowed her choices down to Pittsburgh, West Virginia and Kent State. She says she can’t remember why chose to attend Kent State, but she said she can never imagine going anywhere else.

Once she got into Kent State, she started researching how she could get a tryout and walk-on to the football team. She eventually made her way over to the football offices to fill out the paperwork when she ran into then head coach Darrell Hazell.

“He introduced himself to me, but he did not realize what I was doing at first,” she said. “I was filling out a tryout form and he was just being nice. Then when he came in and he noticed what I was doing, he was like ‘Okay! When you are done why don’t you come in and chat with me.’”

Goss came in Hazell’s office and explained what she wanted to do and showed how serious she was. He listened and said they would be in touch. After some time passed, she received an email officially inviting her to try out for the team.

“They had a tryout date for all the walk-ons that year and it was in the winter,” Goss said. “They did not have a football so it was basically all speed, strength, agility drills and things like that. They could not bring a football out because then it would count as an official practice and they only get 15 practices. So I did not come in for the winter, I came in the first day of spring ball.”

When she went out that spring, Goss did not know what to expect.

“I was not given much direction,” she said. “I thought it would be just this one day. I would show up, kick and then I would be told yes or no. Then they were like, ‘Okay, we will see you tomorrow!’ My entire tryout was the full length of spring ball.”

April Goss celebrates with her Kent State teammates in 2015. Goss became just the second woman in FBS history to score a point in a football game when she made an extra point against Delaware State in 2015. (Photo courtesy April Goss)

Goss remembers being so nervous that spring. She was nervous about how the guys might treat her or think about her, but “they were actually super respectful to where I was almost like ‘what is going on.’”

It was also weird because she did not know anyone on the team really, but they all knew her. It was obvious Hazell had spoken to his players before she came out and instructed them to treat her with respect.

Eventually, Goss became close to her position group—the specialists—and became good friends with long snapper Nate Vance and even attended his wedding a few weeks back.

“He was always like, ‘Hey April!’ How are you?’ I was like ‘Hey dude!’ because I did not know his name,” she said while laughing. “That’s kind of how it was.”

Goss found out after spring practice she made the team and joined the ball club after classes began that following fall. She spent the next three years busting her butt in practice. First she caught the coaches’ eyes and earned a scholarship her second year on the team. Then she made the travel roster her senior year and ultimately got in the game and made her historic kick against Delaware State.

“It is kind of weird to think about it and I am so amazed that to this day, they took a chance on me,” Goss said. “I had such insecurity going all the way through my years there because I just felt constantly that I am only a walk on. There is no way they are going to keep me if someone comes in and all these things like that.

“It was just all of these thoughts, but they did not matter because they kept me on the team. They put me in a game and they let me travel. They did all these things for me that I did not think I deserved.”

But she did deserve them.

“She works her tail off,” Kent State head coach Paul Haynes said after Goss’ kick in 2015. “She’s the first one out there in practice and the last one off the field.”

Twelve years earlier, Katie Hnida made two extra points for New Mexico to become the first woman to score in an FBS game.

“That was cool, but that was not always in the forefront of my mine,” Goss said.

No, instead Goss was dreaming that one day she would get the opportunity to play in a big stadium, like Clemson Memorial Stadium, and have a chance to make the game-winning kick against a top 10 team. She was hoping she would get to visit Death Valley as a player. The game was initially scheduled for 2014 and then 2015, but it got pushed back to this Saturday.

So when the Tigers run down the hill and into the Valley on Saturday for their 12 p.m., date with Kent State, Goss will be on the Golden Flashes sideline with some of her old teammates and coaches soaking it all in.

And who knows, though she can’t make the winning field goal anymore, maybe she will be called on to the field to make a field goal to a win a television or something.

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