Updated April 2, 2021 - 12:22 pm
Bob Cousy, Tom Heinsohn, Clarence Thomas … these are names, as they say at Notre Dame, another venerable Catholic institution of higher learning, that wake up echoes at the College of the Holy Cross, founded by Boston bishops in 1843 in Worcester, Massachusetts.
The two NBA Hall of Famers and longstanding U.S. Supreme Court Justice were born in 1928, 1934 and 1948, respectively. So they aren’t exactly contemporaries of Derek Ng, the school’s junior field-goal kicker by way of Las Vegas’ Bishop Gorman High.
But mention the name of Gordie Lockbaum, the former two-way stalwart who finished fifth in the 1986 Heisman Trophy balloting and third in 1987, and any ice preceding a long distance chat with Holy Cross’ most recent football record-setter immediately is broken.
“He comes to practice every so often,” Ng said, his voice rising excitedly at the mention of Crusader football royalty. “He’s not that old — probably in his 40s or 50s.”
One for the books
Let the record book show that last November 16 — when the Crusaders were wondering if they’d even have a 2020 football season after the NCAA Division I-AA schedule, or at least a chunk of it, was pushed back to spring amid the COVID-19 pandemic — Lockbaum, who once scored six touchdowns against Dartmouth and was on the field for 143 of 171 plays against Army, turned 55.
Let it also show that on March 13 — a strange date to be playing football games that count — Ng trotted onto the field for just a few plays against Lehigh at Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, and on one of them kicked a field goal that not even the great Lockbaum could have made.
Holy Cross led 17-3 in the third quarter when Ng connected from 51 yards, breaking the school record by two yards. The history-making boot did not come as a huge surprise, considering he was kicking like an angry mule during pregame warmups.
“I looked at him and said, “Dude, you’re feeling it,” said Bob Chesney, the Holy Cross coach, as Ng’s kicks flew toward nearby Nazareth.
“I kept backing up because I was hitting the ball over a fence,” Ng said sheepishly. “I backed up to 58 before the refs kicked me off from going onto (Lehigh’s) side of the field.”
He was in The Zone, and 2,483 miles away — the distance from Henderson to the 41-yard line on the visitors’ side of scenic 16,000-seat Goodman Stadium on the Lehigh campus — a smile came to the face of a guy who could relate. Ng is one of 10 Las Vegas-area high school specialists Daren Libonati has taken under his wing since he last split uprights for UNLV during the 1980s.
Diamond in the rough
Ng still was a soccer player then. And only a soccer player, as was confirmed by his and Libonati’s first session.
“I told him everybody starts off like a dirt clod,” said the former Rebels’ kicker. “It’s my job, and (his), to chip away at that dirt clod and turn it into a diamond. I told him that it’s going to take a lot of work, determination and focus to be great. The best thing about Derek is all those things came easy.”
The biggest problem in his development was that Bishop Gorman rarely settled for field goals when scoring touchdowns came so easy.
Ng’s recruiting film was devoid of game-winning field goals. The only Division I school that showed any interest was Army. So when he received a text from Holy Cross going into signing day and then an offer following his official visit, he basically said, where do I sign? And why do the people here talk kind of funny?
“The last time I was in Boston was when I was really young, but everything is the same with football,” Ng said. “Same ball, same field, same goalposts. The only difference is I’m 3,000 miles from home.”
Holy Cross will complete its four-game regular season against Colgate April 10. Ng said if the Crusaders win, they will probably face Bucknell for the Patriot League title, with the winner advancing to the 16-team FCS tournament.
I have a feeling that Lockbaum will be watching.
Despite having part of his Holy Cross career postponed or canceled by COVID-19, Las Vegas’ Derek Ng has earned several accolades in addition to recently kicking a school record 51-yard field goal.
As a freshman, he kicked a 45-yard field goal in overtime to beat Yale. He finished his sophomore season ranked second in the Patriot League in extra point percentage, third in scoring, fourth in field goals made and fourth in field goal percentage.