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NFL kicker's journey from the MLS to the NFL

Jacksonville Jags placekicker Josh Lambo's journey from professional football to ... professional football has given him a lot of insight into two sports.

Posted: Aug 25, 2018 1:32 AM
Updated: Aug 25, 2018 1:35 AM

Josh Lambo is not your typical NFL placekicker.

The 27-year-old from Lansing, Michigan began his athletic career as a goalkeeping prodigy for the US Under-17 national team, even garnering interest from English Premier League club Everton.

But when his MLS career with FC Dallas stalled, Lambo turned to college football and earned a spot with the Texas A&M Aggies.

Like any kicker worth his weight in cleats, the four-year veteran with the Jacksonville Jaguars has a knack for pressure situations.

Last November, Lambo nailed game-tying and overtime field goals for the Jags to sink his former team, the LA Chargers, who cut him in the preseason.

He was also a key part of the team's stellar playoff run, kicking a field goal in the final two minutes in a wild win at Pittsburgh to secure Jacksonville's spot in the AFC title game.

In his first taste of the playoffs Lambo was perfect, hitting all nine of his extra point attempts and all four field goals.

CNN caught up with Lambo ahead of the Jaguar's London game against the Philadelphia Eagles on October 28, where he discussed handling big pressure moments, befriending other kickers and exactly what he thinks of "icing" kickers.

CNN: What are the similarities between playing in goal and being a placekicker?

Lambo: "You really only have one shot to do your job. You don't get a redo to miss a save really, the ball goes in the back of the net. You don't get a redo if the kick goes outside the uprights, so you have to be on your game all the time.

"I have really been able to adopt the mentality of being one-for-one on every kick."

There is a sense that fans remember the mistakes of both goalkeepers and placekickers instead of their great plays. Does that ring true?

"They can for sure, just hopefully you don't have very many of them. You got to give them a lot more good things to remember than bad."

Both positions invite a level of isolation from the other guys on the team. Can you describe the type of personality it takes to do those jobs?

"You need to be able to be alone with yourself a little bit, because you're not in the position meetings with all the other guys in football.

"And being a goalkeeper, you're often in goalkeeper training. It's much easier to be integrated as a goalkeeper, especially because you have a smaller team, usually 24 guys in the locker room.

"Now with football, going into camp we have 90 (eventually whittled down to 53) and we only have a couple of specialists, so you become really good friends with other specialists."

It seems NFL kickers prefer to be left alone before pressure kicks -- and other players avoid speaking to them. Why is that?

"Yes, just because that's how the routine is for every other kicker. You know, if you're going through a penalty kick in the middle of the game, you don't get a pep talk by your coach.

"In the middle of the game, if it's a 27-yard field goal, five minutes up in the second quarter, guys aren't coming up to you pumping you up saying 'Hey we need this,' so I like to keep everything the same.

"I like to keep people away from me. I'll have our media guys form a little barrier around me if it's a game winner to keep people away, because I don't want to change anything. When you change things, that's when mistakes happen."

Do you have any superstitions when it comes to kicking?

"No, I trust my process, I believe in my skill, and I'm going to let that take over. I'm not going to let anything outside of myself take control."

Can you describe your process and pregame rituals?

"I'm not really a big ritual guy. I do believe in a routine. Saturday nights, I have different things I do to try and get my body and my mind right.

"Sunday before the game, for warmups, I'll go out and do a visualization session, seeing myself making field goals and seeing myself hit perfect kickoffs.

"My process throughout the week and why I am not superstitious is because superstition is leaving power up to something that is not yourself, and I don't believe in that. If I am going to make the kick, it has nothing to do with what sock I am wearing or what shoe I put on my foot first. It is about me doing my job, and I can control it.

"External factors will not control the outcome of something that I do."

Do you meditate or do yoga?

"I have been doing a lot of Pilates, which has really helped me, obviously physically, but also mentally. I am a big fan of yoga. I think it has physical benefits as well as mental and spiritual benefits.

"I have definitely been studying mindfulness, and meditation is a part of that. Just being able to stay in the present moment and not let any situation get too big. You never let get your highs get too high, your lows be too low, and just be very much in the moment. I think that helped me a lot last year."

Is there anything you do to combat anxiety in pressure situations?

"Yes. Part of the mindfulness that I have read about is really being present in that exact moment. Let's say I'm trotting out for a kick and some thought process washes over me that is either positive or negative. I will try to acknowledge that I had that thought and then just let it pass.

"I do not live in it. If I am anxious, I am not saying to myself, 'Oh no, I'm anxious!' If I am anxious, I will acknowledge that I am feeling anxiousness. That is OK. I take a deep breath. I let it pass, and I rely on my muscle memory and my technique."

How does icing the kicker impact you? What do you think if you see the ball go through the uprights, only to hear a timeout has been called before your kick?

"I think icing is really stupid. All you're doing is giving the kicker another chance. You are not messing with him.

"If I miss it, OK great, I know how to make that correction. If I make it, I know exactly what I need to do again. If they will give me five stabs at it, I don't care. I will make them all."

Many goalies appear to have a special bond in soccer leagues; is it the same in with NFL kickers?

"There is a good little group of guys that are all kind of connected and encourage each other. I talk to (Tampa Bay Buccaneers kicker) Chandler Catanzaro and (New Orleans Saints kicker) Wil Lutz quite a lot. (Carolina Panthers kicker) Graham Gano and I text fairly frequently.

"I love the fact that I am in the same division as (Indianapolis Colts 23-year veteran kicker) Adam Vinatieri because I get to see him face to face twice a year, which is just incredible. If you are going to learn from anybody, you want to learn from the best. He is, if not the best, probably top three.

"I kind of pick his brain sometimes about football stuff, but he is just a good man, a good person. I enjoy being around him. I enjoy his demeanor, so that is the stuff that I think will make you successful on and off the field."

Given that you played for Team USA in the Under-17 World Cup against Belgium, and got the man of the match by keeping a clean sheet against Eden Hazard and Christian Benteke, did you watch this year's World Cup and wonder about how you could have been there?

"Unfortunately, this year the US wasn't in it. But, yeah, you watch guys like Eden Hazard and you realize that you played against them and beat them. We won 2-0 against Belgium in the Under-17s, and the next game we played against Toni Kroos with the German team.

"And my first ever youth international was against Theo Walcott and England. So watching some of those guys in the Premier League, it's fun to look back and (know) that I did that or (wonder) what could have been, but I'm pretty happy with the way life turned out for me so far."

What was missing for you as an MLS goalie? And what went right as a placekicker?

"My height for sure as a goalkeeper (laughs, Lambo is 6-foot tall), but seven minutes into my first reserve game I broke my jaw, so that didn't help either.

"And then the coach that brought me in got fired, that definitely didn't help.

"And the successes as a placekicker I think came really from the failures as a goalie, in terms of just dealing with the adversity and not giving up, and just realizing that there are good ways to be a pro and there are some mistakes you need to avoid.

"So I took everything I learned being a goalkeeper and transferred it to being a placekicker."

Jags owner Shaheed Khan also owns Fulham FC. Are you tempted to try out in goal? You could be the Bo Jackson of the NFL and English Football.

(Laughs) "I don't know if Shad would be too happy if I tried to go back to soccer -- but if they need me I'm available."

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