- - Sunday, April 23, 2017

ANALYSIS/OPINION

Starting Thursday, NFL general managers — and others who fancy themselves as personnel experts — will do the football version of shopping spree at Costco’s when the draft gets underway.

They’ll go down the aisle and pick up the staples that they need to stock their football teams – offensive tackles, linebackers, receivers, cornerbacks.

Some of them, though, may have a copy of the Sharper Image catalog stuffed in their back pocket. They have circled the item that they saw in there — the unique item that maybe they don’t absolutely need, but it sure would be fun to have.

That item is called a Simon Mathiesen — a 23-year-old, 6-foot-4, 210-pound Danish kicker from Northwest Missouri State who has scored more points than any kicker in college football over the past two season (151 points in 2015, 140 points last season), who can put 50 yarders through the uprights with either foot and who gets more accurate as the game gets bigger and the weather gets colder.

“I think what teams really like about me is that I am weatherproof,” Mathiesen said. “I hit on about 82.5 percent of my field goals, but in the cold months like November and December my field-goal percentage is over 95 percent. When it comes down to the crunch games like the playoffs, I rarely ever miss — 22 for 23 in playoff games.”

“When it comes down to important games I usually perform at my best,” he said.

He’s kicked in his share — Northwest Missouri State, located in Maryville, Missouri, has been a Division II football powerhouse, winning six NCAA national championships, including 2013, 2015 and the 2016 titles, with Mathiesen a big part of those last three championships.

It was not a straight path that led Mathiesen to Maryville.

He was born in New York to Danish parents, who then returned to Denmark when Mathiesen was 4 years old. He has dual citizenship in both Denmark and the United States. He grew up in Denmark, and while Mathiesen was a soccer player, interest in the country began growing in American football.

“I had a couple friends that really got me into it and I just really enjoy playing football a lot more than I did soccer,” he said. “I was about 15 years old when I started playing football. hat’s kind of how it all began I was about 15 years old when I started playing football. I played for the local club team — the Golddiggers.”

He was primarily a wide receiver, though, and that was how he pitched himself when he sent a highlights video to about 80 American schools. One coach at Northwest Missouri responded, and Mathiesen made the team as a walk-on receiver.

“My freshman year I was a receiver, and about halfway through the season we needed a kicker,” he said. “The coach came up to be before one of our most important games of the year and said, ‘You’re our starting kicker today.’” By the end of his career at Northwest Missouri, Mathiesen wound up with every kicking record in school history.

You probably never saw him play for Northwest Missouri State, but you might have seen him nonetheless — he has become a YouTube sensation of sorts with his kicking videos, some of which have recorded him hitting field goals from as far as 75 yards out.

Back in Denmark, he has become a rock star. “The whole country seems to have rallied around this kid,” said Scott Bergman, his agent out of Rockville, Maryland.

Mathiesen may remind them of another national sports hero out of Denmark who went on to become one of the greatest kickers in NFL history and who will be only the second kicker inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in August — Morten Andersen. In fact, Andersen has become a mentor to Mathiesen and has worked with the young kicker, helping him prepare for his pro workouts.

“I’ve gotten to know him pretty well,” Andersen said. “He has a lot of talent. I can identify quickly whether he has what it takes — physical talent, work ethic and mental toughness. I put him through some tough workouts and he performed well. He’s got good elevation on the ball, good projector. He is pretty dialed in right now.

“I think he has an opportunity,” Andersen said. “I think he has a lot of potential.”

Of course, Mathiesen grew up admiring Andersen. “He (Andersen) has played a big role in my preparation,” he said. “To hear from a Hall of Fame kicker that I have what it takes to play in the NFL on Sundays is a big confidence boost.”

Will an NFL team give him that opportunity in the draft this weekend?

Teams are reluctant to use draft picks on kickers – particularly high draft picks. They are considered luxuries in the draft, though in a moment in a game to decide a win or loss, there is no position more valuable to a team than a kicker. Bergman said he has had conversations with all 32 NFL teams about Mathiesen. Eight of them have expressed “a lot of interest,” he said.

Given the disappointing season that Washington kicker Dustin Hopkins had last year, you would think that the Redskins would be one of the teams that would express a lot of interest.

According to Bergman, one of their division rivals, the Philadelphia Eagles, has Mathiesen on their draft board.

“Overall I’ve heard very good things from these eight teams,” Bergman said. “I don’t know if there are any other teams that are really interested but that may be laying low.”

One general manager, while standing in line with his cart full of tackles, linebackers and running backs, may pull that Sharper Image catalog out of his back pocket and said, “I’ll take one of these — a Simon Mathiesen.”

Thom Loverro hosts his weekly podcast “Cigars & Curveballs” Wednesdays available on iTunes, Google Play and the reVolver podcast network.

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