The Commercial Appeal

Gostkowski goes into Memphis’ Hall of Fame


There was a time when New England Patriots kicker Stephen Gostkowski was certain he would wind up at Ole Miss. And he was certain he would be playing only baseball.

As a three-sport standout at Madison Central High School in Madison, Mississipp­i, Gostkowski found that college coaches only wanted to recruit him in one sport each. Some saw his leg and wanted him to be a kicker. Others saw his arm on the pitching mound and wanted him in baseball.

Then Memphis came along, out of the blue, during a summer league baseball game.

“Memphis said, ‘Hey, we want you to come here and play both.’ And that’s pretty much all they needed to tell me. I was sold,” Gostkowski recalled Saturday night. “And it’s the best decision I think I’ve ever made.”

On Saturday, Gostkowski was one of four Tiger products to be inducted into the M Club, the university’s athletic Hall of Fame, alongside former pitcher Dusty Farmer, point guard Chris Garner and middle hitter Katherine Lehman-Patnode. Gostkowski rolled into the Penny Hardaway Hall of Fame with waves of family, friends and former teammates for an induction ceremony that served as a fitting end to an exciting week.

Last Sunday, Gostkowski won his second Super Bowl title with the Patriots. Six days later, he was recognized by his alma mater in what he called “a dream come true.”

“It’s very humbling to be back here and to be honored by the M Club,” he said. “The four best years of my life were spent in this place . ... I bleed blue. I love being a Tiger and love being back here in Memphis.”

Gostkowski arrived at Memphis on a baseball scholarshi­p and walked on to the football team, eventually becoming a four-year starter in both sports. In his first year on campus, he was named to the Conference USA all-freshman in both football and baseball. But over time, he said, it became more difficult to keep pace on the diamond, playing only part of the year when the rest of his competitor­s played year-round. Football became his primary sport.

Gostkowski, who is now 33, left Memphis with school records in both points scored (369) and field goals made (70). He went on to be drafted by the Patriots in the fourth round, and he has since been named to the Pro Bowl four times, most recently in 2015. The trajectory of his career, and the success he’s contribute­d to in New England, has been “pretty surreal,” he said.

“Sometimes being in the right place at the right time is a good thing,” he said. “I’ve been fortunate enough to stay on probably the greatest franchise in the history of sports for 11 years.”

Though he has become a valuable resource for kicker Jake Elliott in recent years, Gostkowski said his NFL career has prevented him from spending as much time around the Memphis football program as he would like. But he met coach Mike Norvell earlier this week and said he’s enjoyed following the program’s recent rise as much as anyone.

“It’s awesome to watch,” he said. “To be able to wear my Tiger gear in the Patriots’ locker room and for them to say, ‘Man, you guys are doing good. That quarterbac­k’s really good.’ Or, ‘Man, you guys have got really sweet uniforms.’ ... The future is bright for us. Hopefully we can continue (to keep) it going for a while.”

 ?? STEW MILNE/USA TODAY SPORTS ?? New England Patriots kicker Stephen Gostkowski (3) has establishe­d himself as one of the best kickers in the NFL.
STEW MILNE/USA TODAY SPORTS New England Patriots kicker Stephen Gostkowski (3) has establishe­d himself as one of the best kickers in the NFL.

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