By Thomas Corhern, TTU Sports Information
Nick Madonia stands a few yards back behind his teammates. He lines up the kick, blocking out anything else. There is the holder, the ball, him and the goalposts.
On the attempt, 54 yards stand between Madonia and a lead against their Football Bowl Subdivision foes from Utah State on its home field.
The crowd noise from 24,000 of his opposing fans chanting to their team to block his kick, it may as well be silence to the senior from Arrington, Tenn. After all, he wasn't worried.
"In pregame, I was kicking long field goals," Madonia said. "I knew I had the leg in me. The main thing was just staying calm, trust in my technique and finish the kick. The results showed."
Almost as simultaneously as the ball is snapped back to his holder, Seth Huner in that contest, the Utah State defenders rush headlong into the Tech line, determined to get a hand on the ball and end the scoring attempt.
"I tell my holder 'Up and through, we're going to make it,'" Madonia said. "There are some words that I think in my head and I take deep slow breaths. I stay calm. I'm not really thinking about much – just making the kick and nothing else."
Madonia's teammates hold long enough for the senior to get the kick off. Once it was in flight, all he could do was watch as it split the uprights.
In just a matter of seconds, he had kicked what still stands as the longest field goal so far this season in the Football Championship Subdivision.
But with as many times as Madonia has done this over the course of his career, standing out there in that situation is nothing new. He's not worried – his coaches have faith in him and he's going to prove why.
Madonia's 54-yarder at Utah State wasn't his longest of his career, though he did record a career-high four field goals made in that contest. His longest came in a late season game at Tennessee State's Hale Stadium on a chilly November afternoon in the 2016 season as the daylight was quickly turning to dark.
In that game. Madonia sailed a 57-yarder through the uprights, eclipsing Tennessee Tech-record 53 yarders kicked by Ryan Weeks in 1989 against Morehead State and Murray Cunningham in 1974 against Western Kentucky, breaking essentially a 42-year-old record.
Distance wasn't a concern in Utah – he had done it before. But at what distance does he feel comfortable at?
"Obviously weather is a factor," Madonia said. "If it's sunny and no wind (similar to the weather at Utah State), I'm comfortable at 55-60 and throw me in there. I feel like there's a pretty good chance I'll make it.
"When you're kicking at those distances, it's more fun than pressure. If you happen to miss a long one, there's not as much pressure on you like missing a chip shot, so it's kind of fun just getting to take a swing at it and hope your technique stays true."
At Utah State, Madonia kicked the second-longest field goal in Tech history, then on September 22 at Jacksonville State, he tied Weeks and Cunningham's best by launching a 53-yarder at Burgess-Snow Field at JSU Stadium. With five more games remaining in his senior campaign, Madonia literally has the top three field goals made in program history.
"I've just been blessed to be able to kick long field goals," he said. "A lot of kickers don't have coaches that trust them to attempt those. Fortunately, Coach Alexander does that. You just have to make the most of it when you get the opportunity."
And that's an incredible feat – Madonia was already in incredible company with amazing Tech kickers over the years: Weeks, Cunningham, Justin Kraemer, Josh Foster, Bruce Winningham, Zach Sharp, David Collett, Wayne Anderson, John Arnold and the list could go on and on.
"That is an amazing group," Madonia said. "I'm very good friends with Wayne – he comes around all the time and he owns that record for 11 field goals made in a row. But it's an honor to be in the same company as those guys."
The five field goals Madonia attempted are second in the Golden Eagles' single-game record book, following Ryan Weeks' seven against Chattanooga in 1989 – he also made all seven.
In a career, David Collett has the most made, making 49 field goals from 1998 to 2001. Through the Jacksonville State game, Madonia has made 30 of his 41 tries, with only John Arnold hitting a better percentage. He needs 19 made field goals to tie Collett's tally, but just three to move into second over Josh Foster's 32 from 2001 to 2005.
Then there's the other elusive record – Wayne Anderson hitting 11 field goals in a row in the 1980 season. While it sounds impossible, Madonia came close before, hitting eight in a row in 2016 after missing his first two career field goals against Wofford. His streak ended with a 45-yard miss at Tennessee State, before he knocked through his record-breaking 57-yarder and four more to close out the season. He missed the first kick of the season against Western Illinois, ending the chance for the new streak to stretch over another season.
He had started a new streak at Utah State and Jacksonville State, hitting three in a row, but Madonia had his first field goal blocked as Randy Robinson from the Gamecocks tipped a try at JSU.
"I'm still coming after that one," Madonia said, with a laugh. "I'm hoping I can break that one this year."
In his career thus far, Madonia has supplied the Golden Eagles with 148 points with 30 made field goals and 58 PATs out of 60 attempts. That ranks him fourth all-time behind Collett (253), Foster (200) and Sharp (185).
Madonia was twice named to the all-Ohio Valley Conference second-team and was named to the all-preseason team before the 2018 campaign started.
He also had an amazing pedigree before coming to Tech. At Centennial High School, Madonia scored 252 points as he was 31-for-43 on field goals. In his senior campaign, he put together a 9-of-13 effort with a 52-yarder against Mt. Juliet, then hit 47 of his 49 PATs.
Over the years, he's kicked the ball and kicked it well, making it an easy decision to put Madonia in there when the need arises.
Every game this season, Alexander has called upon his senior to put the Golden Eagles on the scoreboard. Madonia doesn't feel any pressure from it – he just does his job.
"It actually ends up taking a lot of pressure off of me," he said. "It shows that Coach A has faith in me to put me out there on the 52 or 55 to go make it and put points on the board, rather than the uncertainty of going for it on fourth down."
Now as his senior campaign starts to wind down, there are still goals out there to accomplish.
"I want to end the season on a high note and keep doing the best I can, not just for me, but for the team," Madonia said. "Hopefully, I can earn some honors at the end of the year if it comes to that. If not, that's OK. With the NFL, every college player's dream is to go there, so, hopefully, I can get some looks with the season I'm having so far. If not, I'm going to finish my degree in civil engineering and pursue that."
Photo by Thomas Corhern, TTU Sports Information