FNF: Kewpie kicker shares special relationship with record-setting father
COLUMBIA - He's the hero, or the goat. The guy you don't necessarily think about until you need him the most. He's the kicker. However, for the Hickman Kewpies and the Whelihan family, kicking is front and center.
Hickman junior kicker/punter Andrew Whelihan is not the only man of that namesake to roam a Columbia sideline.
His dad Tom kicked for the Missouri Tigers from 1984-1987 and finished his Missouri career with a nearly 70% field goal percentage.
Tom's most memorable kick came in 1986 game against rival Colorado of the now extinct Big Eight Conference. Tom booted a 62-yard field goal at Faurot Field, good for a Big Eight record (that was never broken) as well as a Missouri Tiger team record that also stands to this day.
Tom knows the record came as a result of years of practice and dedication.
"There's a time when hard work meets opportunity, that's when good things happen," Tom said. "I only got one shot. This was it, I wasn't getting a re-do. I got my one opportunity and I guess I seized the moment."
Tom makes it very clear he hopes that record will always have his name by it.
"The only record I care about is that 62," Tom said. "I'll be pissed if someone beats 62. I don't care about anything else, but I don't want anybody touching that 62. Tucker McCann, [current Mizzou kicker] I know you've got the leg strength for it, I've seen you kick 62, but I don't want you busting my record."
There was something else special about Tom's style of kicking. He did it barefoot.
"I'm from Texas, and in the summertime it's blazing hot and I always ran around barefoot when I was a kid and I just started kicking balls in the backyard," Tom said. "I feel psychologically that if I kick barefoot I kick it farther. Kicking's all six inches between your ears and if you can feel like you can do it, you just do it, so I did it."
Tom's feet have a new purpose these days: standing on the sideline as the coach for his son.
"The big thing is I get to spend time with my son," Tom said. "It's really hard sometimes when he goes in to kick. I'm torn because part of me is like 'I'm his coach and I need to coach him if he misses it, but the other part is I'm his dad and I want him to make it because I'm his dad.' So I've been able to adjust a little bit."
Andrew knows not every athlete gets a unique opportunity to share the sport they love with their dad.
"It's pretty special," Andrew said. "It's like a once in a lifetime possibility that my dad gets to spend time with me in school but still outside of school. He's more of a dad than a coach. I talk to him about my day and then he goes ' Okay Andrew it's time to kick. Let's do this and then we can talk after we kick'. It's more father/son time than coach/athlete time."
However, joining the 'family business' was not always a sure thing for Andrew.
"I always played soccer and I used to play around [with football] and thought 'Oh, this is fun, I'll try this'," Andrew said. "And he [Tom] was a kicker, so I just talked to him, and he said 'It's really fun maybe you should try out'. So I did and I'm not terrible. So I like it, it's fun."
Like his dad, Andrew plays high school soccer, and has worked both sports into his schedule at Hickman with the approval of head football coach Devin Brown. Tom also has to get the approval of his boss, and coach Brown's wife, Jill Brown, who is the principal at Russell Elementary School, and allows Tom to leave his job there to attend practice with his son.
Both Andrew and Tom know the importance of kickers and punters at the high school level.
"I feel like some schools do see the advantage of kickers," Andrew said. "This year coach Brown has allowed me to try field goals in a game. I'm grateful. He allows me to come out here for 15 or 20 minutes and then go play soccer."
"These smaller teams around here don't really take advantage of a good kicking game," Tom said. "There's a lot of hidden yardage. I'm thankful that coach Brown is letting Andrew do this and letting me be here. How many staffs would let a dad come and coach his kid?"
Tom and Andrew also both realize this is Andrew's script to write, not that of his famous father.
"I don't want to be his kid that does everything to be like him," Andrew said. "I want to be me who does what I want to do. I mean kind of because of him, but not because he's telling me to do it."
"It's his journey, not mine," Tom said. "But they always say the reason you live is to pass your knowledge onto someone else, I guess that's why I'm doing it. It's just an extra caveat that he's my son."
Andrew does have one particular area where he hopes he can be like the elder Whelihan.
When asked if he would be able to kick a 62-yard field goal like his dad, Andrew got a wry smile on his face.
"I'm going to say 63."