Travis Coons’ tenure with the Chargers started with a clang, not a bang, which is not what you want when you’re an NFL kicker.
The third kicker employed by the team this season, following the ineffective Younghoe Koo and the injured Nick Novak, Coons lined up for his first kick, a seemingly routine 38-yard field-goal attempt in the first quarter of a Dec. 3 game against the Cleveland Browns.
The snap was good. The hold was good. The kick was not. The ball slammed off the right upright, producing a loud sound that echoed through StubHub Center.
“It was definitely not the first impression I wanted, especially for these guys [in the locker room] and the fans,” Coons said. “I just had to shake it off and move to the next one.”
From that point, Coons had no margin for error. Though he beat out four other kickers in a late-November tryout to replace Novak, who suffered a lower-back injury in the Thanksgiving Day game at Dallas and was placed on injured reserve, he knew he had no job security.
If Coons missed another kick or two, the Chargers, with little patience for struggling kickers, would make another change.
Coons got another chance early in the second quarter against the Browns and nailed a 21-yard field goal. He added field goals of 40 and 22 yards before halftime and a 27-yard field goal in the third period of a 19-10 win.
In last week’s 30-13 victory over the Washington Redskins, Coons made all three of his field-goal attempts, from 33, 21 and 36 yards out, seemingly stabilizing a shaky position entering Saturday night’s AFC West showdown game against the Kansas City Chiefs in Arrowhead Stadium.
“I don’t know about that,” Coons, 25, said. “I’m just trying to do everything I can to help this team win. I’m gonna try to do my job the best I can, and hopefully that keeps me here for a long time.”
Coons, an Alta Loma High School graduate who kicked for Mt. San Antonio College and the University of Washington, had what seemed like a solid rookie season for the Browns in 2015, making 28 of 32 field-goal attempts, including all 21 from 20-39 yards out, and 22 of 24 extra points.
He was released the following August after he lost the kicking job to Patrick Murray and spent all of 2016 and most of 2017 out of football.
“It’s just the life of a kicker,” Coons said. “If you’re not doing the job the way that team wants you to, or the way the coaches want you to, then they’re gonna find someone else. That was the case with Cleveland.”
Coons spent this past training camp with the Rams but had no chance of beating out Greg Zuerlein. He was cut before the season and spent the next three months kicking near his Alta Loma home, making stone mailboxes to sell and commuting to Lake Havasu to learn his father’s underground construction business.
“I was his right-hand man,” Coons said. “It’s something I’ve always wanted to learn because it’s something he’s done all his life. Some of the labor is heavy. We worked with some backhoes out there. When he had a job, I was there 24/7.
“It’s obviously different from kicking in an NFL game, but once the season is over, I’ll go back to doing that.”
Coons, his confidence buoyed by his success, is looking forward to the pressure of a Saturday night game in a hostile environment with first place in the AFC West on the line. The most pressure-packed kick he made in 2015 was a 32-yarder that gave the Browns a 33-30 overtime win over the Ravens in Baltimore.
“You have to make every kick you can to keep your job,” Coons said. “If you’re putting it through the uprights, you’re gonna get a look, regardless of age.”