You can’t always find magic. Sometimes, magic finds you.
Dan Mowrey had it happen to him on a St. Augustine High practice field eight years ago.
Mowrey is best known in these parts as the Florida State placekicker who missed a potential game-tying field goal wide right against Miami in 1992. Years later, he became the kicking coach in St. Augustine, where his full-time job is as a criminal defense attorney.
By happenstance on that spring afternoon years ago, Mowrey was introduced to a soccer-playing freshman named Caleb Sturgis. “Want to try a field goal?” someone asked the kid on a lark.
“He had never kicked a football in his life,” Mowrey said. “Off the ground, a 40-yard field goal. His steps were funny looking, but he drilled it.”
If Sturgis becomes the next Adam Vinatieri and Hollywood makes a film about his life, there’s the money flashback scene. Nearly a decade after that serendipitous introduction to football, Sturgis has a chance to write his own professional script.
The rookie out of Florida had his first practice as the Dolphins’ undisputed kicker Thursday, a designation made official the previous night when the team released sixth-year veteran Dan Carpenter.
Sturgis, drafted by the Dolphins in the fifth round in April, won the job with three weeks to spare. The team was so sure of Sturgis’ ability, it cut short the competition — and didn’t even make the young specialist attempt a field goal in practice Thursday.
Coaches already know he has got plenty of leg. He nailed a 58-yarder in last Friday’s game against the Jaguars and had four touchbacks in six kickoffs.
Dolphins coach Joe Philbin said the team’s level of confidence in Sturgis was “very high.”
Added Philbin: “We felt this was the right opportunity to do it for both parties. Caleb Sturgis is going to need time to practice and prepare in game-like situations. The more game-like situations he can get in, the better.”
Left unsaid: By cutting Carpenter now, the Dolphins gave him time to find another team before the season starts. Brandon Fields, the team’s punter, is close with Carpenter. Fields said his friend will “absolutely” get another job.
“Sooner or later, you’re going to get off the train, whether you’re kicked off or you get off on your own accord,” Fields said. “It’s going to happen to everybody. You have to know it going into it and be professional about it.”
Sturgis was careful not to celebrate when he met with reporters Thursday. He spoke respectfully of Carpenter and said nothing has changed in his mind.
That humility is a trait Mowrey noticed in Sturgis early on. His amazingly strong — and accurate — leg was another.
Although born in Boca Raton, Sturgis grew up in St. Augustine. He comes from a family of athletes. His father, Smiley, a pastor, was a collegiate tennis player. Big brother Nathan is a defender for Major League Soccer’s Colorado Rapids.
Caleb Sturgis also played soccer growing up but never a down of organized football until the day Mowrey discovered his natural ability.
Back then, Mowrey planned to quit coaching, focus on his law firm and spend time with his growing family. But that all changed after his chance encounter with Sturgis. Mowrey taught his new protégé the proper technique and began preparing him for the mental part of the game.
“He told me that it’s something I could do, at least get my education paid for, and that’s all I really wanted to take it for at that point,” Sturgis said.
Mowrey was right. Sturgis parlayed an All-State senior season into a scholarship offer from the University of Florida.
By his second year on campus, he was UF’s kicker and would go on to earn All-American recognition during a decorated career.
Now, as a pro, he has stayed in-state, with his family, friends and his old kicking coach just a few hours up the road. And while Mowrey can claim he discovered Sturgis, the mentor said his pupil deserves all the credit.
“The God-given ability he has is apparent, but his innate ability to work hard is as great as I’ve seen as anybody,” Mowrey said.
“They say practice makes perfect; for Caleb, it’s perfect practice makes perfect,” he said. “His work ethic is second to none.”