Minnesota State University -- Mankato will attempt to continue its undefeated season today when it plays in the NCAA Division II quarterfinals in Mankato. Sam Brockshus will be there, ready for the opportunity to help his team continue towards the national championship.
Brockshus, a redshirt junior kicker from Spencer, already has earned spots all over the MSU record books and just booted the Mavericks into the quarterfinal with a 27-yard field goal in double overtime last Saturday against Northwest Missouri State. MSU led 21-0 at halftime but needed two extra periods to pull out the 38-35 win and improve to 12-0 on the year.
For Brockshus, who holds season and career records including all-time leading scorer (251 points and counting), the chance to win the game and help his team is why he's out there.
"I used to feel more pressure when I was a freshman and sophomore, and I'd worry about if I missed it," he said. "Now I just look at it as a great opportunity to be out there with a chance to help the team."
Brockshus has helped the team plenty in the kicking game this year. His 110 points (on 56-of-57 extra points and 18-of-22 field goals) are all MSU school records. His 22 field goal attempts is also a record. He passed the all-time mark earlier this season.
"It's something to be thankful for," he said. "I try not to get too wrapped up in stats but when (the career mark) was coming up it was hard not to think about it a little. I didn't realize how close I was when the season started until our assistant coach mentioned it to me. It's a direct correlation to how good our team is and I've been lucky to be part of some really good teams here. The kicker can't do much if the offense and defense aren't playing well."
The success Brockshus has had on the field this year nearly didn't happen at all. While lifting weights in the spring of 2011, Brockshus herniated a disc in his back. A month later, another disc was herniated, sidelining him from football activities. After trying to rehab his back without surgery for a couple of months, he and doctors determined back surgery in July 2011 would be the best choice. He had the surgery in Spencer and redshirted the 2011 season.
"It was obvious it wasn't going to get any better without surgery," he said. "I was out for six months before the surgery and then another six months after, so it was over 12 months without any kicking. But my back feels the best it's felt since I was a sophomore in high school. I was pretty blessed to have a great surgeon and a good surgery. Coming back from that year away from football really taught me I shouldn't take things for granted."
That new mindset has manifested itself into the best kicking season in MSU history and spots on All-Conference, All-District, All-Academic and All-Region teams.
The team also works with a sports psychologist, who teaches at the university, and with an undefeated record, Brockshus has noticed its effects.
"It's been a great help to our whole team. We use a lot of positive imagery and write down personal and team mission statements. One thing she has us do is visualize what's possible when we each play our best and write down our thoughts about what we'll feel like when we're playing our best game on Saturday," he said.
The Mavericks have been focused on each player's job all season, taking a one-game-at-a-time approach. The team was dealt a huge distraction prior to the season when its head coach, Todd Hoffner, was arrested in August and accused of two felony counts of child pornography when videos of his children were found on his work-issued cell phone. Brockshus said he and the team aren't discussing the issue but said the team has really united this season for each other and are simply focused on each upcoming game.
"We're focused on our job and going 1-0 each week. We've had great leadership and attitudes and we have really come together as a family. This has been my favorite season so far, in large part to the winning, but it's been so much more fun and special when all the guys are playing for each other like a family," Brockshus said. (Editor's note: On Friday afternoon, Nov. 30, the case against Todd Hoffner was dismissed by a Minnesota district court, as reported by USAToday. Hoffner had been on paid administrative leave since August. The interview with Brockshus occurred prior to the case being dismissed.)
The Mavericks have three more wins to claim the National Championship, and they'll get to play this Saturday's in front of their home crowd. Brockshus and his teammates will no doubt be visualizing another win for days prior to kick off.
"I'll be picturing myself making every kick from now until the game on Saturday," Brockshus said.
It's worked so far.