Golden Eagles kicker nearing end of record-setting career

Published 11:21 pm Thursday, January 4, 2007

Darren McCaleb has lined up for almost 90 career field goals and counting.

Yet, the Southern Miss kicker still feels like iron butterflies are stomping around in his stomach each time he trots on the field.

“It’s really nerve-racking,” McCaleb said. “I thought I would get more used to the pressure as a senior, but I feel the same pressure as when I did when I first got here as a true freshman. It really gets to you but you’ve just got to block it out.”

McCaleb has fought off the nerves so well in his four years at Southern Miss that each time Conference USA’s active career scoring leader steps on the field he’s extending several of his career records.

The kicker and the rest of the Golden Eagles faceon Sunday in Mobile in the GMAC Bowl before a national television audience on ESPN. Should this game come down to a final kick, the Golden Eagles have every reason to feel confident.

The 5-foot-11, 171-pound senior from Biloxi has a career success rate of 79.8 percent. If he makes his next field goal attempt, he will push his career average to 80 percent where it’s been since he arrived at Hattiesburg four years ago.

He owns every significant career kicking and scoring record at Southern Miss — scoring (327), field goals made (67), field goals attempted (84), extra points made (126) and attempted (132).

He also holds the single-season record for field goals (23), extra points (38) and points (107), all set during his extraordinary junior season.

He is in the top 10 among NCAA career leaders in every field goal category and is the No. 5 active points leader. Over his career, he has averaged seven points a game.

All that adds up to few worries when McCaleb is lining up.

“Darren’s a competitor,” coach Jeff Bower said. “That’s what I like about him. I think he takes a lot of pride in what he does and competes, and I think he likes being in situations where you call on him to make a big play.”

McCaleb has toasted two teams with last-second field goals in his career and has been the difference in another half-dozen wins that didn’t require late heroics.

He can recall just one game where he failed his teammates and it came this season. He missed a 50-yarder late against East Carolina. Had he made it, the Golden Eagles would’ve led by 10 points. Instead, the Pirates scored a late touchdown to send it into overtime and won.

The outcome left Southern Miss relying on other teams in its chase of the conference’s East Division title and a place in the championship game, but USM recovered by winning its final three regualr season games and winning the C-USA East crown before falling to Houston in the league title game.

“That was our key loss,” McCaleb said. “So I put that in my mind and I couldn’t wait to get to another game just to get my confidence level back up because that really got to me. My career’s flew by and I just want to make the best of these last games,” he said.