UNLV's Kohorst a kicker with feet firmly on ground

Nolan Kohorst is not for dramatics, which is all the more ironic when you consider the spot he holds on a football team. But his is a simple, candid study of how many college coaches might view a kicker when deciding whether to offer a scholarship.

“It is a risk-reward thing,” said Kohorst, a senior who has been UNLV’s kicker for the past four years. “I’m sure they say, ‘If this kid doesn’t pan out, we are going to be left with a 6-foot, 180-pound guy who can’t do anything but kick a ball.’ I understand that.

“It’s why I have always felt fortunate to be in the place I am.”

On Saturday evening, Kohorst made a field goal that later this season could prove to be one of the most significant in the history of a program that, well, doesn’t boast much history worth recalling.

But if the Rebels are to win at least two more games and perhaps reach their first bowl game in 13 years, a certain 44-yarder as time expired against Hawaii — which gave them a 39-37 victory — undoubtedly will rank among the biggest of plays in a season that over the past month has progressed from dreadful to promising, one that began with two losses and since has offered four consecutive victories as a matchup at No. 17 Fresno State looms Saturday.

Kohorst has been a favorable constant in a deluge of UNLV losses to this point in his career, a product of Green Valley High who is 29 points from becoming UNLV’s all-time leading scorer. He’s that valuable.

Kicking in college, for some time now, has proven an unsettling sensation for all involved, as the percentage of made field goals has decreased nationally in the past decade. This, despite more coaches shoving aside old-school ways of preferring walk-on kickers and instead offering scholarships to those whose success is based on the action of one foot.

But it has been a brutal reality for some of the country’s best programs in recent memory. Just ask Boise State and Oregon.

Since 2008, only once has at least 39 Football Bowl Subdivision programs made 80 percent of its field-goal attempts.

In 2012, only 26 teams managed it.

Kohorst could have walked on at Nebraska or Louisiana State or Utah or San Diego State or others but was offered a scholarship by former UNLV coach Mike Sanford, and the commitment then was upheld when Bobby Hauck assumed control of the program.

It’s not so easy to say that those programs struggling for a competent kicker should send a coach to the nearest soccer field and pluck from the pitch one of hundreds of kids with strong legs.

It’s not so easy at all.

“It’s not the same kicking a football off the ground with 11 angry men coming at you,” Hauck said. “It’s a not a static deal. There is a snap, a hold, a lot of variables to it. It’s not as automatic as we might make it seem after the fact. (Kohorst) is someone who has improved throughout his time in college. He’s a good player.”

Kohorst’s telephone had 40 texts within minutes of his winning kick Saturday — the first he has made as time expired at any level. He went to dinner, put his phone down, picked it up and had 30 more texts.

Family. Friends. A fraternity of kickers.

He credits most of his success over the years to Las Vegan Daren Libonati, who has tutored eight Division I kickers. That list includes Conor Perkins, a Green Valley senior who has committed to the Rebels, meaning UNLV will go from one kicking Gator to the next.

Kickers stick together for support and solace alike, theirs a job both gratifying and thankless, having met over the years at various camps and clinics. So it might be Michael Hunnicutt of Oklahoma who will reach out to Kohorst after such a moment as Saturday’s winning kick, or Cade Foster of Alabama or Drew Basil of Ohio State.

It’s elite company for anyone from UNLV.

But none of it fazes Kohorst, a history major who aspires to teach fifth-graders about Thomas Jefferson and the settlement of colonies while one day coaching others the craft of kicking a ball.

“To get into an (NFL) camp would be surreal and a dream come true more than anything,” Kohorst said. “I didn’t even watch the NFL until this year. I have always known that I will have my education to fall back on. For people to say I have done great with the football part is nice, but it has always been about the education. I had professors email me after (Saturday’s win) saying, ‘Great job. See you in class.’ That’s what is most important. I want to teach.

“You know, the last three years, it was as if we were a deer in headlights with records of 2-11 and 2-10 and 2-11. But to finally be having some success and to have won four straight games, to prove we can win at UNLV and that our system works and that we’re good players, it’s just a very prideful thing for every person in our locker room.”

None more grounded than Nolan Kohorst.

And, perhaps at season’s end, none with a more significant moment than a certain 44-yard field goal.

Las Vegas Review-Journal sports columnist Ed Graney can be reached at egraney@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-4618. He can be heard from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Friday on “Gridlock,” ESPN 1100 and 98.9 FM. Follow him on Twitter: @edgraney.