Big 12 Sports.com Correspondent
Literally and figuratively, Jeff Wolfert knows about leaps of faith.
A self-proclaimed adrenaline junkie, Wolfert is an accomplished diver who earned a scholarship to Missouri. He's taken plunges from the 75-foot high Hurricane Deck Bridge at the Lake of the Ozarks. This past summer, he was getting a rush doing 2 1/2 sumersaults from a 45-foot cliff.
Wolfert made a figurative jump into the unknown in 2005 when he gave up his diving scholarship to walk on as a kicker for the Mizzou football team. It has become one of the most successful career changes in the school's history.
"I thought he was absolutely crazy," Missouri coach Gary Pinkel said. "I didn't think at the time it was a real good idea. I didn't think (Wolfert) should give up his scholarship and I didn't want the diving coach to think I was stealing his athletes."
Wolfert, who attended Blue Valley West High School in suburban Kansas City, played a number of sports but gravitated toward soccer and diving. Kansas high school rules prevented Wolfert from playing soccer and football in the same season. After three years playing soccer, Wolfert switched to football his senior season. It was a short prep career.
After going one for two on extra point attempts, Wolfert attempted his first kickoff and broke his hip - a stress fracture in the bone couldn't take his all-out attempt to "kick it as hard as I could."
The injury influenced his decision to accept the diving scholarship to Missouri. As a freshman, he finished in the top 10 on the 1- and 3-meter boards at the 2005 NCAA Zone Diving Championships. The urge to try football was strong so he walked on.
"When I first walked on, I sat for a year and didn't play," said Wolfert, who will graduate in December with a degree in plant management. "I was frustrated because I knew I should have been playing. But it was good to be in the passenger seat, see how things worked. I was able to establish myself and show that I was making the investment."
Wolfert and Crossett battled for the job throughout pre-season practice in 2006. The week before the season opener, the coaching staff decided to go with Crossett but made it clear the leash was short.
"The next day, he missed a couple in practice and I made all of mine," Wolfert said. "They called me in and told me I had won the job. Prior to that, I was pretty discouraged. From then on, it's been pretty good."
Quite the understatement.
He has made 96.3 percent of his kicks since becoming the Tigers' kicker in 2006. He has only missed seven of 52 field goal tries and hasn't missed an extra point in 139 tries. In Big 12 games, Wolfert has never missed. He's 26-of-26 on FGs and 64-of-64 on PATs.
"I hoped for it but I didn't expect it," Wolfert said of his accuracy. "It's a lot of hard work and preparation paying off. I haven't gotten into thinking about how well it's going.
"It's more than I could ask for. You want to play in big-game situations. You don't get that everywhere. This senior class, to see where it's taken the program, is really exciting."
Pinkel chuckles when he recalls that he didn't discover until the Thursday before the 2006 season opener that Wolfert had attempted just two extra points in high school. That lack of football experience hasn't been a detriment.
"Being a diver, competing in the moment with the spotlight on, I think that kind of parallels what he does as a kicker," Pinkel said. "I think that experience has helped him. He's talented but also has tremendous concentration and focus and he's a competitor.
"He's one of the top kickers in the nation. His consistency and accuracy proves that. He has proven he can do it."
Getting his kicks
Missouri senior kicker Jeff Wolfert has missed just seven kicks - all field goals - since he became the Tigers' kicker in 2006.
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