By Kristin Finney
Greene Publishing, Inc.
Bladen Gudz, as many may recall, spent his final three years of high school kicking his way into the hearts of fans at Boothill. However, his dreams of kicking did not stop in high school. After graduating in 2010, Gudz moved to Jacksonville and is now the kicker for the Jacksonville University Dolphins.
When asked how he became interested in being a kicker for a football team, Gudz said, “The first time I became interested in becoming a football kicker was my freshman year of high school. We had two German foreign exchange students at our school that kicked for the football team, and I hung out with regularly. One day they were kicking after school and I just went over and thought I would try to kick one, and low and behold I wasn’t half bad at it, and they told me I did pretty good.”
“My Nan and Pop had been telling me I should try and go out for the team but I hadn’t really ever given it much thought. So one day in Turf Management class (which Coach Frank was the teacher of) we were picking up left over cleats from the previous season that had just passed and I told Coach Frank that if he gave me the pair of cleats I had in my hand, that I would come out and tryout in the Spring. And believe it or not he gave them to me. So I went out for football in the spring of my freshman year and it all started from there.”
As for prior football training, Gudz had little involving football. “The only place I would say that my skills came from was just from playing soccer at such an early age, so kicking the ball came naturally to me. I had to teach myself how to kick, and over time learned the proper technique and improved my game every year.”
Towards the end of his senior year, Gudz realized that he needed to start deciding what he wanted to do with his life and which college he wanted to attend. He hoped that he would be able to continue playing football in college, but wasn’t sure which schools would want to offer him a scholarship.
He received offers from Florida International University, Appalachian State and Western Kentucky to be a preferred walk-on. Being a preferred walk-on means that they were not guaranteeing him a scholarship, and weren’t immediately offering him one. Gudz explained, “I wasn’t going to move as far away as those schools were if they weren’t going to give me a scholarship, so they were starting to look like they were out of the picture.”
Come the end of football season his senior year; Gudz was starting to worry that he would never play football again. However, a few weeks after the season ended, Madison head coach Michael Coe came up to Gudz and told him that he had been selected to play in the East-West All Star Game. “While practicing for the game with my team and new coaches, our defensive coordinator, Jerry Odom, happened to be taking up the defensive coordinator/ linebacker’s job at Jacksonville University. He apparently saw some potential in me and told coach Coe to see if I would be interested in talking to him about visiting JU to see what I thought.”
After visiting JU, a school that prior to this offer Gudz had never heard of, he was really interested in attending school there. “I didn’t want to make my decision after just that first visit, so I decided to keep my options open and wait to see if anyone else was interested in me,” he recalls. Following the All-Star game, where Gudz kicked the game winning field goal for his team, he received a text message from a coach at Valdosta State University.
“He told me that he wanted me to take a visit over there, and he wanted to see me kick in person. So, one day during the summer I went over to Valdosta and visited with the coaches, and then they took me to the practice fields to see me kick. They were very impressed with me and told me that, ‘I was just as good, if not better than the kickers they have there now, and they wanted me to come play for their team.’ I asked about possible scholarship money and they told me that if I won the starting kicking spot that I would receive a scholarship. I asked about the possible competition that I would be facing, and they told me they had three kickers already on the team and they were bringing in another as well, so it would be me and four other kids battling it out for the starting spot,” said Gudz.
It was then that Gudz knew that Jacksonville was where he would be going, because they only had one returning kicker and needed him more. “I was pretty much set that I would enroll in Jacksonville University, and play my college ball as a Dolphin.”
When asked how playing football at MCHS prepared him for college football, he said, “Playing football at Madison County prepared me in so many ways. It taught me to never give up, to keep fighting even if you’re down. It taught me to always work hard on and off the field because our character is what truly defines us as athletes. It taught me that even though you or your team may be considered smaller than others. It doesn’t matter about the size of the dog in the fight, but the size of the fight in the dog. It also taught me to always compete and believe you can get better at what you are doing, otherwise there will be no fun left in the game.”
Gudz’s thoughts during his first kick went something like this, “’Please, please don’t mess up in front of everyone.’ I didn’t want to start out my career being known for missing it. There wasn’t really any pressure on me though, cause I had never kicked before so no one expected anything out of me.”
As for Gudz’s most difficult kick, “I would have to say one of the most difficult kicks I ever had to kick and had successfully made was either my sophomore year when we went to Wakulla and it was absolutely freezing, it was the coldest game I had ever played in, and on one of the extra points I felt as if my leg was going to break because it was so stiff from the cold. Or, probably the state game in 2007, my sophomore year as well, when I went out to kick that first extra point; I was so nervous and I didn’t want to miss on national television in front of what seemed to be all of Madison in the stands,” he said.
At JU, the team practices four days a week, with games on Saturdays. The team gets Monday’s off to recover from the game. “We are in full pads on Tuesday and Wednesday. On Thursday we are in shells (shorts, helmets and shoulder pads). And Friday is our ‘Hat Day’, which is were we just have an easy walk through practice on the game field and wear the craziest hat we can find (Sombreros, Funny wigs, etc).”
His favorite part about JU football “is the camaraderie and attitude of our team, the fact that we may be small but we compete on the level of bigger D1 schools. Also the part of us being in the running for the championship ever year.” However, he does miss Madison football. “Probably one of the biggest things I miss about being a Cowboy and playing at Madison is the team and coaches who I have grown up knowing and who have always been there for me.
“The team we had on Boothill wasn’t really a team per say but more of a family. We had all known each other, went to the same school, and played sports together since Dave Galbraith and Madison Elementary. We had laughed, sweated and bled together our whole lives. Practice wasn’t really looked at as a boring practice but more of a time to compete and play football against some of your closest friends. Cowboy football was an oasis away from the rest of the hardships each player was dealing with in their own lives. So I would say that that feeling of brotherhood that each player and coach had with one another would be what I miss the most.”
While many people leave Madison and go crazy missing their home, Gudz has stayed strong. Being over an hour away from home is not easy for him, but he pushes through it. “Being away from home isn’t really too bad. I mean I miss my family and hanging out with the people I have known my whole life. But just having football and friends here takes my mind off it for the most part. When I start having nothing to do and only a TV to keep me busy, it gets a little lonely, and I start to miss having someone close by or always there to talk to, but I just push through it till I have practice or go eat out with the guys or something like that.”
When asked how he tries to lead his team, Gudz said, “The main way I try to inspire and keep our team up is competing against some of our best players at their position. It always seems to put a smile on everyone’s face when a kicker gets out there and beats someone at his or her own craft. Proving that I can actually compete against them even though I’m smaller than most, gets them to try and work harder and overall making the team better.”
One of the most difficult things about being in college and playing college level football is, “Balancing school and football may be the hardest part of college for me. It’s difficult because once you have four or more classes, scheduling tests and assignments around the same time, as well as football practice everyday; it gets really hard to find time to get all the work done. The only way I am able to cope with the football and class work is making myself go to football study hall whenever I have something that has to be done for class.”
“My advice to someone trying to become a kicker would be to learn the proper technique for kicking early so you can be productive sooner; don’t use “I’m a kicker” as an excuse to not lift weights or work hard in practice, because if you want to go far with kicking your going to need that extra muscle and drive to get you there and be successful; Get your name out early in your high school career because kicker is usually the last position teams need and look for, so its good to be one of the first that the teams watch and look at in case they need one,” he explained.
While Gudz is not sure whether or not he will play professional level football, when asked if he would he said, “Well who wouldn’t? I mean I wouldn’t mind getting paid millions of dollars to play a game for fun? But I know that it takes a lot of hard work to make it to that level, and I know that if I work my hardest throughout my collegiate career and still don’t make it than it just isn’t meant to be. If that is the case I will graduate with a degree in exercise science from one of the best schools in the nation, and continue on to pursue physical therapy and make money that way.”
Bladen Gudz is the son of Martin and Brigitte Gudz of Madison. He has two brothers, an older brother named Adam, and a younger brother named Cullen.