University of Miami

UM freshman’s dad wrote ‘linebacker’ on hospital bassinet. He’ll start versus LSU elsewhere

Miami kicker Bubba Baxa
Miami kicker Bubba Baxa

Bubba Baxa was 9 pounds, 14 ounces at birth.

The Miami Hurricanes hope his powerful right leg is just as imposing.

Baxa, the University of Miami’s new kicker, will turn 19 on the day of the Hurricanes’ home opener Sept. 8 against Savannah State.

But for now, the 6-0, 205-pound true freshman, rated the nation’s No. 2 kicker in the Class of 2018 by Kohl’s Kicking and No. 4 by ESPN, is focusing on nailing his field goals, extra points and kickoffs against LSU in Sunday’s season opener.

“I’m excited,’’ Baxa said of the game at AT&T Stadium in Arlington Texas, a four-hour drive from where he grew up in Pasadena, Texas, near Houston. “I’m ready for it.’’

The Canes sure hope so.

Starting your college career at the home of the Dallas Cowboys, a gigantic, state-of-the-art stadium sometimes referred to as Jerry’s World after Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, could be an intimidating prospect. Baxa knows all too well. He played in the stadium this past January in the Blue-Grey All-American Bowl, hitting several extra points but getting his lone field-goal attempt —from 43 yards, he said — blocked.

Apparently, players were warned not to rush the kickers, so the blocking, in turn, didn’t materialize. One player didn’t get the memo and tipped the ball.

“I swear I thought I made it,’’ Baxa said of his intitial contact. “I heard the sound of it, I felt the contact and it felt like it was going in.’’

The expectations are plentiful, partly because Baxa is so highly rated and partly because he is taking over for graduated senior Michael Badgley.

Badgley, a 2017 Lou Groza Award semifinalist and first-team All-ACC, is UM’s all-time field-goal leader with 77 and all-time points leader with 403.

“I just try to relax and think about staying calm and keeping my composure,’’ said Baxa, who began kicking before he entered middle school. “I’ll think in my head, ‘Just relax. You’ve done this for so long. You know what to do.’’’

Baxa’s family, including mom Laurie and dad Gregory, will make the drive from Pasadena, where he kicked and punted and was an all-district pitcher (junior year) and third baseman (sophomore and senior years) and shooting guard/small forward during his career at Pasadena Memorial High School.

The past two years of field-goal kicking, Baxa went 9 of 19, several attempts in the upper 40-yard range, his dad said.

“I really don’t get nervous anymore watching him kick,’’ said Gregory, a retired chemical engineer for Dow Chemical, now known as Dow Dupont, and former kicker, punter, fullback and linebacker in his hometown of Springfield, Illinois. “After watching him pitch baseball games in high-pressure situations or making free throws at crucial points, you get used to it.”

When Bubba was born and his dad learned how much he weighed, Gregory Baxa jokingly wrote “linebacker’’ on the placard attached to his son’s hospital bassinet.

“You’re pulling for them to do well, and you’re there for them either way,’’ Bubba’s father said. “You love your kid no matter what.’’

Laurie Baxa, a human resources manager for Dow Dupont, said she used to barrel race and run track in high school.

She still gets nervous watching Bubba kick. “I know he’s capable,’’ Laurie said. “But we want the best for him, and he loves to excel in everything.’’

UM special teams coordinator Todd Hartley said coaches evaluated “about 15 to 18 kickers’’ around the country while recruiting and Baxa was “head and shoulders above the rest from a consistency and accuracy standpoint.’’

And from a kickoff standpoint? “Phenomenal,’’ Hartley said.

UM coach Mark Richt said Monday that Baxa has been “kicking them out of the yard. ...If he kicks it like I know he can there might not be many kicks returned.’’

For the record, Bubba is a nickname his older sister gave him when he was very young. His real name, which few, if any, know, is Gregory Russell Baxa.

Baxa’s longest field goal in a game was 54 yards this past year against Dobie High. He said his longest during a practice was 70 yards before the start of his high school camp. He committed early to UM, choosing the Canes over Baylor and Army.

“Great guys, very genuine,’’ Baxa said of the UM coaching staff, his deciding factor when choosing UM. “I came for my visit and they made me feel like a five-star recruit. ...I definitely made a great choice coming here.’’

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