Not much in John Hoyland’s life has occurred due to happenstance.
Every move and every milestone has been thought out and planned. Even though he’s just 17, Hoyland is not one to do something just for the sake of doing it.
But the red shoe that went viral on national television? Yeah, that was an accident.
Hoyland, a true freshman walk-on kicker from Broomfield, Colorado, shocked everyone watching the University of Wyoming’s season opener at Nevada, including those in the press box, when he trotted onto the field for a field goal attempt toward the end of the first quarter.
Redshirt freshman kicker Luke Glassock was atop a depth chart UW released earlier that week, having waited patiently behind the school’s all-time leading scorer, Cooper Rothe, in 2019. Behind Glassock was Cornell graduate transfer Nick Null, who also held punting duties.
Hoyland wasn’t anywhere to be seen on the Cowboys’ two-deep.
Glassock suffered a groin injury during the week, however, and Hoyland suddenly found himself taking first team reps.
Sprinting onto the field in relative anonymity, No. 46 in brown and gold calmly made his first try from 27 yards out. Then he made one from 36 yards out. Then he hit a 42-yarder that sent the Cowboys to overtime after having trailed by 22 points less than 20 minutes earlier.
His final magic trick was a 38-yard field goal in overtime that would have been a game-winning kick had Nevada’s Carson Strong not thrown a touchdown on the Wolf Pack’s ensuing possession.
Making one field goal? You could call that luck. Making all four? That requires more than a few Hail Marys before the snap.
The Pokes might have lost the game in Reno 37-34, but they had officially uncovered a diamond in the rough. Hoyland was named the Mountain West special teams player of the week for his unlikely 4-for-4 performance, and he is listed atop the depth chart for UW heading into today’s 7:45 p.m. kickoff against Hawaii.
Wide-eyed, sheepish and looking every bit of 17 years old, Hoyland spoke with reporters Monday, a position he admittedly didn’t think he’d ever find himself in. People don’t usually line up to chat with the walk-on kicker.
“I was kind of a no one before I came in, but now that I’m here it’s pretty crazy,” Hoyland said. “I’m not really used to this.”
Hoyland was the buzz of social media during and after the game. It was perhaps best summed up by former UW defensive lineman Sidney Malauulu, who tweeted, “Idk where they got this 7th grader but this dude a cold (expletive).”
The Colorado native made the online rounds for more than his heroics.
Upon inspection, Hoyland wore a single bright red cleat on his kicking foot, with the other foot in a white shoe. The assumption was that the wardrobe choice was due to superstition, but it truly was coincidence.
Hoyland said he spent the past few months trying out different Adidas brand cleats, knowing the shoe goliath is the apparel outfitter for UW.
Cleat choice is important for a kicker. It’s like choosing the perfectly sized hat. The wrong fit can ruin your entire day. Hoyland found a pair he liked and told the UW equipment staff he wanted a pair for the season.
Well, as it turned out, the only color the equipment staff was able to find was bright red. We’re not talking crimson or maroon. We’re talking a Dorothy from the “Wizard of Oz” Pantone.
Hoyland recently decided to use a different shoe for each foot: There is a plant cleat and a kicking cleat. In this case, the plant cleat was a run-of-the-mill white shoe, while the one covering up his golden foot was akin to a highlighter.
“I don’t know if anyone noticed, I did not choose the fashion statement with his red shoe,” UW coach Craig Bohl said. “It did not match, but the ball went through. That’s what counts.”
It might have been a shock to Hoyland that he was in the game kicking. After all, he had no Division I scholarship offers. What wasn’t surprising in the slightest, though, was that he made the types of kicks that would make many in his position crumble.
“I can’t imagine a situation that would have been more stressful for John,” Rothe said. “Seeing the way he handled it, and by making all of his kicks, I thought (it) was very professional of him, just embracing the moment. I think that’s the sign of a good kicker and how good he’ll continue to be going forward, just being mentally strong.”
For those who have been around Hoyland for a long period of time, coming through when it mattered most isn’t a surprise. There’s just something about him that gives you the reassurance that he is going to treat every field goal attempt exactly same, with no added pressure, regardless of circumstance.
Corey Heinz, Hoyland’s coach at Legacy High, could only laugh when Nevada called a timeout before the freshman attempted his game-tying field goal.
You can’t ice someone who has ice water in his veins.
“You can’t freeze that kid. As soon as they called the first timeout … (they) screwed up,” Heinz said. “You can’t unnerve that kid.”
As a junior at Legacy, Hoyland was a good kicker. But as a senior, he became a great kicker, making 14 of 16 kicks and earning All-American honors from Chris Sailor Kicking. In those days, his kicking shoe was bright orange, Heinz said.
Heinz admits he doesn’t know a ton about kicking, and the team doesn’t have a kicking coach. Most high schools don’t. So, to get better, Hoyland sought private help from a kicking teacher, and the results were obvious. On Mondays before games, Heinz would give Hoyland a series of kicks to work on for the week. Hoyland would have them mastered by Tuesday and was eager to show them off.
He would spend five or six days a week kicking by himself outside practice as well, working on a craft he so badly wanted to master. Being out there alone didn’t phase him. As was the case with an actual kick, the only things that mattered were the ball, his foot and the goalposts.
Before games, Legacy would do field goal tries with the rest of the team making as much noise as they could in an attempt to rattle Hoyland. It did not work. His stoicism and quiet confidence was the stuff of legend.
“I think he went 11 for 11 (before games) last year. There’s not much that gets to him,” Heinz said with a chuckle. “We’ll forever be talking about how good of a kicker John Hoyland was at Legacy High School.”
Still, Hoyland was not a highly sought after prospect. Whenever a college scout came through Legacy, Heinz tried to sell his kicker, yet no one bit.
Hoyland’s only scholarship offer was to Western Colorado University, an NCAA Division II school in Gunnison. UW eventually offered him a walk-on spot. That took some convincing too, Heinz said. Former assistant coach A.J. Cooper, now at Washington State, was the one who eventually got on board with bringing Hoyland to campus as a walk-on.
While Western Colorado was offering money, Hoyland chose UW for a few reasons. One, he thought he had a chance to compete for the lead job. But more importantly, it fit what he wanted out of a college education. Hoyland wants to be an engineer, and UW has a program that other places he considered couldn’t compete with.
Hoyland is the type of person who knows what he wants out of life. He doesn’t do things because they look good in the moment. He does things because they are going to get him where he wants to be long term. He is bright and values his education.
UW is tied for No. 161 nationally in undergraduate engineering programs, per U.S. News and World Report.
“He’s a process kid,” Heinz said. “Shiny things don’t really get John excited. … In his mind, it was really what’s going to get him the best engineering degree.”
Following his mind and his heart, Hoyland enrolled at UW, not truly knowing if he would ever see meaningful snaps for the Cowboys. Things got off to a bad start, as Hoyland had to spend a ton of time away from the team due to COVID-19 protocol, according to Bohl.
Hoyland was somewhat of an unknown commodity until recent weeks, when Bohl saw flashes of a solid kicker come through in practice. But he quickly earned Bohl’s trust, leading up to the game and within the game itself.
“My goal coming in here was to get as much confidence from the coaching staff as I could, and just make the most of any opportunity I could,” Hoyland said. “It’s good to know that, up to now, I’ve done all I can to impress.”
Rothe intimately knows the challenges Hoyland faced. In Rothe’s first career game, a 40-34 win at Northern Illinois, he hit his first two field goals before missing a potential game-tying shot and another in overtime. On the regulation kick that would have won the game, Rothe said he was iced in the same way Hoyland was.
To see Hoyland come through the way he did was pretty remarkable.
“I was impressed by the way he handled it,” Rothe said. “Every kicker needs the support of his team, and I think after Saturday’s performance, he not only got that, but he also got the support from the entire Wyoming fan base, including myself.”
Hoyland isn’t the loudest person in a room. In, fact he’s generally one of the quieter ones, Heinz said. But it would be critical blunder to mistake his taciturn nature for a lack of confidence. It’s quite the opposite, really.
That quiet, introverted attitude is what makes him so deadly. He might always be inside his own head, but it’s not psyching him out. It’s going through the process, over and over again, until it’s clockwork. There is only one thing going through Hoyland’s head when he lines up for a kick: his swing and his aim. There are no glances at the scoreboard, how much time is left or a feeling of existential dread.
There is only the process, that same methodical, step by step thinking that led him to UW.
That’s why Heinz had to laugh when Nevada tried to ice Hoyland, who actually missed the practice kick. You can’t give someone like that extra chances.
“He’s not going to say whole lot. But those inches between the ears, he has incredible confidence in himself,” Heinz said. “It doesn’t matter if he’s playing in the Horseshoe or in the Swamp. Not much is going to get to him.”
Heinz wasn’t watching Saturday night’s game initially. Like most people watching, he had no idea Hoyland had been given the starting nod. Hoyland’s father texted Heinz following the second made field goal, and Hoyland’s coaching staff group chat started to go crazy. Heinz then turned on the game.
With 23 seconds left in regulation, Hoyland came back on the field to try and tie the game 31-31. The Cowboys had gone on a furious rally, overcoming a 28-6 late third quarter deficit on the arm of redshirt freshman Levi Williams, who was playing in place of an injured Sean Chambers.
Still, the biggest moment of the game didn’t rest on the shoulders of Williams. It rested squarely on Hoyland’s right foot.
There was never a doubt in Heinz’s mind Hoyland was going to make the biggest kick of his life. He’d seen that script play out too many times.
“I never doubted for a moment that a field goal was going to go anything but through the end zone,” Heinz said. “Very, very rare that you can get a kid that, no matter the circumstance, the moment is never going to be too big.
“He’s about as strong as they get. It’s really cool. Couldn’t have happened to a better kid.”