Skip to main content

Training Camp | 2023

Presented by

Spagnola: Kicking Off Another Improbable Tale


OXNARD, Calif. – Those sneaky Cowboys. All along they had something up their kicking sleeves.

Sure, they had signed Tristan Vizcaino in the offseason. Had the guy with all of one year of NFL kicking experience around for the entire offseason, but they sure didn't hide their desire to bring in another kicker for competition, and may the best man win the job vacated by Brett Maher from a year ago.

And all that time, Cowboys special teams coach John Fassel was biding his time, saying things like, "It's Tristan Vizcaino and anyone else in the world who is not on another team."

So many of us were pushing out names of veteran kickers still out there in free agency. Guys like Mason Crosby, Robbie Gould, Ryan Succop and Randy Bullock, even Maher despite having developed those extra-point yips in the playoff win over Tampa Bay. But with the exception of Maher, who did sign a week or so ago with Denver, those other guys? Why, they're still out there.

But in the dead of the offseason the Cowboys played their hand. Signed one Brandon Aubrey, and at the time, the reaction sounded out there was like a parliament of owls.

Who? Who? Who?

"He's an unknown, but he's pretty darn good," Fassel said after Thursday's training camp practice. "Everybody probably sees it as just another kicker signing."

Of course. Because here is what we knew. Aubrey played soccer at Plano Senior High School, in the Dallas suburb of Plano. He went on to become a scholarship soccer player at Notre Dame where he was part of the Irish national championship team. Was a first-round draft choice of Toronto in the MLS. Played professional soccer for a few years.

Then somehow wound up kicking for the Birmingham Stallions in the USFL the past two seasons, and we documented his path a couple of weeks ago from winning two consecutive USFL championships with the Stallions to signing a free agent contract on July 10 with the Cowboys.

Fassel very quietly, and probably cautiously, will tell you, though, "He's got some game, man."

But how does a 28-year-old rookie, who never kicked in high school, never kicked in college, had last kicked a football in middle school before signing with Birmingham, arrive here with the Cowboys to compete for the team's all-important, totally wide-open kicking job?

Aubrey's story is a good as it is improbable.

Says he kicked around in soccer for several years. Kind of burned out living out of town 10 months a year. Got married. Decided it was time to make some money, "and take care of my wife."

"I had an office job working as a software engineer for GM Financial," Aubrey explains this career path 180. "I did it for about a year and a half, but after two months in I realized it wasn't for me. I needed to get back in athletics, but soccer, I kind of burned out on and it wasn't paying me enough to get through all that."

Now here is the unusual part, and not making any of this up for what they call on the internet "click bait."

"My wife mentioned it to me while watching a football game, 'Hey, I think you can go kick on a football field,'" he says, which he hadn't since like age 13. "So I took a ball out to a field to kind of see what I could do and looked like I had it. So found a kicking coach, called him up, worked with him for a couple of years, and went through the free agent kicking circuit."

This unusual path to the Cowboys consumed about three years before the opportunity arrives with the USFL.

But how? Why?

Well, bear with me. True story. The kicking coach he found is John Carney. Yep, the guy who kicked in the NFL for 24 seasons, from 1987 through 2010. The two had Notre Dame ties. That's where Aubrey played his collegiate soccer. That's where Carney kicked for the Irish from 1984 through 1986. In '86, the Irish hire Lou Holtz to take over for Jerry Faust as head coach. Lou's son, Skip Holtz, walked on as a quarterback, soon to be moved to wide receiver, thus a one-year teammate of Carney's.

Well, Skip Holtz, after a 35-year coaching career, the last nine as head coach at Louisiana Tech, winds up the head coach of Birmingham when the USFL started up again in 2022. And in need of a kicker for the 2022 restart, Carney helps out his Notre Dame buddy.

"Was fortunate enough to have established a relationship with John Carney, a Notre Dame alum," Aubrey says. "Obviously, he's a Notre Dame guy and he saw enough of me to recommend me to Skip Holtz, and he gave me a shot."

Again, no one would dare make this stuff up.

So in Aubrey's first season playing American football for an American team, makes 18 of 22 field goals and 22 of 24 extra points. And during this past 2023 season, when previously pointing out how Aubrey hooked up with Cowboys former kicker and kicking coach Chris Boniol, hired by Skip Holtz with the Stallions thanks to their LA Tech ties as the special teams/kicking coach, the unlikely kicking candidate in his second season makes 14 of 15 field goals (93.3 percent) and all 35 extra points.

"NFL teams were telling me we think you have the ability, but you don't have any film and we can't take that chance," Aubrey says after initially joining that kicking caravan, working out for the likes of Seattle, Raiders and Jacksonville.

Then here comes the Cowboys in 2023. As Boniol pointed out a few weeks back, Fassel was on to Aubrey for most of the season. Says he actually scouted one of their games to get a better look at Aubrey. Fassel says he picked Boniol's brain. Had a couple of conversations with Aubrey, also his agent.

"Was a two to three month evaluation," Fassel says, but pointing out they could not consummate a deal until the USFL season was completed, similar to last year when the Cowboys signed another USFL star, KaVontae Turpin, the league's offensive player of the year, but not until training camp had begun.

Thus, the Cowboys didn't want to tip their hand, but as someone had told me during those offseason practices, "We got a surprise in mind." The surprise was Aubrey, but had Boniol not tipped me off about this Stallions kicker, probably would have sloughed off the signing as Fassel figured most everyone else did, saying, "Everybody probably sees it as just another kicker signing."

Well, we are about to see. During the Cowboys' "mock game" practice on Friday, the two kickers kicked for the first time with a deep snapper and holder but on their own. No big team compete. Come Monday, when the team returns to practice after a Sunday day off, the kicking competition begins, Vizcaino and Aubrey going behind the line with the eyes of Cowboys, media and fans upon them. Fassel says the plan is to hold the kicking competition for all to witness four times a week out here in camp, with one of those four during three of the preseason games or until one of the guys separates from the pack.

Or until it's time to call in some veteran reinforcements, as they did last year when the kicking caravan arrived here for a training camp workout after Jonathan Garibay and Liram Hajrullahu unraveled, and that's when Maher caught their attention, his kickoffs making the difference.

Now this, one year later. Might Aubrey come out of the wild blue yonder, too?

Well, here's Fassel's scouting report: "Very excited about his potential but has to prove it. But as for talent, he's pretty good.

"Very humble, quiet, shy kid," and as a kicking coach is known to advise a kicker to sort of disappear into the background of a team, Fassel adds, "Just shut up and kick the ball through the uprights."

And those were just about Boniol's parting words to Aubrey, who says, "He told me to just to focus on myself, hold myself to my own standards. He knows what I'm capable of and the rest of it would play out in my favor."

Sounds good. All of it.

But now's time to find out if this is another one of those Longest Yard tales.

Related Content