FRISCO, Texas — When Brandon Aubrey takes the field on Sunday afternoon in Buffalo, N.Y., he will go through his usual pregame routine.
He will take in the weather conditions including the wind gusts, the precipitation and humidity in the air. He'll find spots in the stands at Highmark Stadium that will help give him some indicators for when he kicks in the game. Then, he'll start booting through kicks from as far back as 55 yards.
He won't make every one – unlike his in-game results so far in 2023 – but he'll learn from each miss to prepare him for when it matters inside the game's 60 minutes. It's a session that includes a lot of learning and adjusting, and it's something he's done his whole adult life.
After a soccer career that saw him go from being a first-round pick in the 2017 MLS Draft to out of the sport in just two seasons, Aubrey decided to hang up his cleats to pursue a job in software engineering to bring in more money for his newlywed wife and to ensure that he remains home in Dallas.
"My wife was going to be based in Dallas, she's from here, and the [soccer] offers were not anywhere near here," Aubrey said. "I didn't want to be far away from her. I had a degree that I could put to work and make more money than I was making soccer. I figured that was the time to hang up the cleats and pursue that."
Two years into his office job, Aubrey accomplished what he wanted. He was making more money and he was with the love of his life at home in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. But one thing was missing, and it was glaring for him.
From the moment he was a young kid watching his older brother play soccer, he envisioned a life as a professional athlete. He trained his entire life, kept his body in pristine shape and came so close to reaching soccer stardom. Knowing that life was in his past, he wanted to find something to keep his competitive fire going, but he also knew that his days as a professional athlete were over – or so he thought.
"I figured since I was still young and my body was still working and healthy, I should go pursue something athletically," Aubrey said.
Shortly after while watching NFL RedZone with his wife, Jenn, one Sunday afternoon, they watched as a kicker booted a field goal from distance which provoked his wife to make a half-serious, half-tongue-in-cheek comment to her former soccer player of a husband.
"She mentioned to me in passing, 'I think you could do that,'" Aubrey said. "I thought she was crazy, because I knew how much work it took to be a professional soccer player and it takes just as much hard work to become a professional anything. At that time, I just got a ball and went to the field, and it looked like I had a little talent for it."
From that moment, Aubrey ran with the idea. He did a simple Google search for "kicking coaches in Dallas area" and ran into a website where he found Brian Egan, an Alabama native who had kicked in the SEC before moving to Dallas to coach youth kickers. Aubrey reached out to Egan who told him candidly that it would be a longshot to get him to the NFL, but that if Aubrey put in the work, he would return the favor.
Egan and Aubrey trained together for more than two years at various local parks and fields, as Aubrey transitioned his approach from learning how to kick a soccer ball a million different ways to learning how to kick a football one way.
His work yielded results. As the two spent more time together, Aubrey became more consistent. On the verge of potentially earning a spot on a spring league team, the work only increased. It was at that moment he ran into somebody that would end up being a crucial part of his career unbeknownst to him: Dak Prescott.
Seven miles north of The Star in Frisco sits the Warren Sports Complex off 121 and Eldorado Parkway where Egan and Aubrey would train. Egan, who kicked for Mississippi State, hit up an old college roommate to come see some kickers and catch up. Sounds simple enough, right? In walks Dak Prescott, fresh off signing an extension with the Dallas Cowboys as their long-term quarterback of the future.
Prescott being Prescott, it didn't take long before a friendly competition kicked up.
"They had a friendly competition where one of the kickers said he could make 10 out of 10 field goals," Aubrey said. "Dak didn't believe him. He said if he could make 8 out of 10 field goals, he'd be impressed. The kicker didn't make those kicks and I just happened to be out there and they gave me the same competition. I went 9-for-10."
Prescott gave Aubrey $200 for his efforts, and while Prescott says he doesn't remember if he had it on him at the time, he is still good for it should Aubrey come back asking to pay up.
It wasn't long after that moment that the USFL came calling and $200 to kick quickly increased to a livable salary to kick for the Birmingham Stallions.
The opportunity with the Stallions allowed Aubrey to kick the very first kickoff of the inaugural USFL season in 2021 along with getting his first reps in a competitive football game since he was in middle school in Plano ISD.
In two seasons, Aubrey went 32-for-37 on his field goal attempts and 57-for-59 on his extra point attempts. His performance in his first season in the league earned him All-USFL honors as a rookie and put him on the radar of Cowboys special teams coordinator John Fassel.
Fassel, who has a storied history of identifying and developing kickers, first started looking at Aubrey while the Cowboys were evaluating draft prospects leading into the 2023 Draft. At that point, Fassel along with the scouting department cast a wide net in their search for a starting kicker. They evaluated every kicker in the XFL and USFL while also making multiple trips to Southern California and Arizona to see hundreds of kickers tryout off the street. Even though he looked far-and-wide, Fassel always came back to one player.
"Brandon was a guy we were looking at among others, and he just stood out," Fassel said. "A big part of it was, in the USFL, they kickoff from the 20-yard-line and his kickoffs were phenomenal. I was sitting in the office with my assistant and we were watching this guy kick off, and he's banging the ball and he's not even trying."
"He's kicking off from the 20-yard-line and he's hitting the ball to the goal line. The ball was jumping off his foot. His field goals were natural and sweet. He just stood out more than other guys."
The evaluation led Fassel to reach out to the Stallions' special teams coordinator, former Cowboys kicker Chris Boniol, to get more information on Aubrey and to connect with the intriguing prospect. Even though Aubrey wowed everyone in the building in Frisco, Fassel would be the only NFL representative to ever reach out about Aubrey, as he would send him text messages after games to show support.
"Hey, you look good," Fassel recounted about what he would text Aubrey. "I'm watching. Just keep on swinging and don't worry about nothing."
No worrying is exactly what Aubrey did as he powered through his second USFL season and excelled once again. It led to Fassel – after a meeting with vice president of player personnel Will McClay and head coach Mike McCarthy – making an incognito trip to Birmingham on June 3 to see Aubrey with the hopes of no other NFL teams catching wind of not only his trip, but also the emergence of the prized prospect.
"I got down on the field and I remember texting C.J. Goodwin, I took a picture of the field and Brandon and said, 'Out here looking for a kicker,'" Fassel said. "He didn't know I was coming and I snuck on the field and watched warmups. I got a chance to meet his family after the game. I just stayed in touch with him and sent him a couple texts every week."
Aubrey was caught just as off-guard as everyone else when Fassel walked into the stadium on that hot Alabama summer day. While he didn't recognize Fassel, his punter, former Denver Bronco Colby Wadman, pointed him out while Fassel tried to fly under-the-radar.
"[Fassel] said if I keep doing what I'm doing in the USFL, there will be an opportunity for me in camp," Aubrey said. "So about three or four weeks later, he showed up at our game. I didn't know what he looked like, and he tried to be stealthy and watch my kicks."
"My punter had known who he was and knew what he looked like. He goes 'Hey, that's John Fassel. I wonder who he's here for.' After the game, I got a chance to meet him and chat with him."
A little over one month later, with a decision in hand to bring in Aubrey for a tryout or not, the Cowboys decided to sign him out of the USFL to compete in training camp later in the summer alongside Tristan Vizcaino. While finding a kicker was one of the more pressing issues on the team, Fassel never felt like he wouldn't find his guy.
"It just felt like this guy we're looking at was probably gonna be one of the guys to compete," Fassel said. "We'll see how he can do and there's obviously veterans still available if things didn't go well at training camp. I remember not feeling pressure to find a guy or sign any guy. It just felt like sometimes being patient was the right answer."
Just five months later, Fassel's patience has awarded him with the best rookie kicker in NFL history. Aubrey has made all 30 of his field goal attempts through week 14 and has earned two NFC Special Teams Player of the Week awards. In addition, he has set NFL records for consecutive field goals made to start a career and for the most 59-plus-yard field goals in one game after knocking through two in the week 14 win over Philadelphia.
The journey happened fast for Aubrey, and even though he is reaching heights at a pace that no other kicker in the history of the league has seen, he says that his wildest dreams continue to come true with every time he steps on an NFL field.
"Believe in yourself," Aubrey said. "Commit yourself to a cause and know that it won't happen overnight. It took me about three and a half years to get the opportunity in the NFL. Just make a goal for yourself, commit to yourself and believe in yourself."