They’re rarely talked about when they come through, but never forgotten when they fail. That’s the placekicker. Over his four years at Florida State, Richie Andrews — a young man with a big leg from Fort Lauderdale — blossomed into one of the best in the country.
Andrews began his Florida State career under head coach Bobby Bowden in 1987. That year, the Seminoles began a streak that hadn’t previously and is unlikely to be paralleled in the future. For 14 straight years, FSU finished in the AP top 5.
“In ’87, I’m sitting in a room with all these guys around me and Coach Bowden gets up and pulls out the schedule with everybody we were going to play that year and we went team by team on the list,” Andrews said. “When we got through the list, we all said, we can run the table.”
Florida State would finish 11-1 with a 31-28 Fiesta Bowl victory over Nebraska and ranked second. The lone loss was a 26-25 defeat at the hands of eventual national champion Miami. FSU failed on a late a 2-point conversion that would have resulted in a victory.
“I think that was the year that really turned the page,” Andrews said. “Had it not been for the game with Miami, we’d have been national champions.”
After not attempting a kick as a freshman, Andrews won the starting job as a sophomore in 1988. Andrews finished just 5-for-13 on field goal attempts that season, but came through in arguably the biggest game of the season.
On the road against No. 3 Clemson, the Seminoles and Tigers were tied 21-21. FSU was forced to punt with just two minutes to play, but rather than give the ball to Clemson, the Seminoles dialed up a fake punt play known to this day as “puntrooskie”. FSU had decoys running to the left while safety LeRoy Butler waited for the fake to play out and took off to the right for 78 yards to near the Clemson goal line.
The Clemson defense however stiffened and FSU was forced to settle for a short field goal attempt from Andrews. Andrews connected, giving the Seminoles a 24-21 victory in what was at the time the biggest kick of his young career. He still owns the ball to this day.
“We joke about it to this day because LeRoy Butler still thinks he scored, he doesn’t even know I kicked the field goal,” Andrew said. “Two weeks after that game, some people approached my parents when we were playing at Tulane and they had actually caught the ball I kicked to win that game.
“It was documented that it is the original game ball because our old equipment manager (Craig Campanozzi) put special markings on the laces to make sure our balls didn’t get mixed up with anyone else’s,” he added. “I have the ball that won the ‘puntrooskie’ game.”
Andrews was able to make the most of his opportunity in a big game, but kickers in the years following his career were not so fortunate. Gerry Thomas missed a field goal that would have given FSU a late lead in a match-up of No. 1 vs. No. 2 against Miami in 1991. The following year, Dan Mowery missed a kick that would have tied the game in a 19-16 loss to the Hurricanes.
“Guys like Dan Mowrey and Gerry Thomas, those were solid dudes,” Andrews said. “They were unfortunate to have been in those situations and it’s affected their lives. You benefit from the ones you make and the ones you miss, you don’t. I’m fortunate that nothing like that marred my career.”
Andrews said placekickers are often a bit different from other players on the team, but during his four years at FSU, he was just one of the guys. He added that today, kickers are becoming more involved and a bigger part of the team.
“There’s a cockiness you have to have about you and I think definitely kickers are a bit different,” Andrews said. “A lot of them are off by themselves and do everything on their own. I was more of a guy who would get in the weight room with the guys, go out with the guys and learn how to tackle. You see nowadays that kickers are in better shape and a bigger part of the game.”
After an improved season in 1989, Andrews had a breakout year as a senior in 1990, going 13-for-18 on field goals including 6-for-10 on kicks longer than 40 yards. Andrews capped off his FSU career near where he grew up as Bowden’s Seminoles faced Joe Paterno’s Penn State Nittany Lions in the Blockbuster Bowl at Joe Robbie Stadium.
Andrews opened the game by knocking through a 41-yard field goal to give Florida State a lead it would never relinquish. The Seminoles went on to collect a 24-17 victory and finished ranked fourth in the country.
“I remember we had 36 tickets in the end zone and at the end of the game, I stole a ball from a referee and game it to my mom,” Andrews said. “I scored the first ever points which was pretty cool, they sent me a plaque on that. It was great way to end my career since I’m from Fort Lauderdale.”
Andrews was the second kicker taken in the 1991 NFL Draft, going 151st overall to the Detroit Lions in the sixth round. From there, Andrews was a bit of a journeyman often getting stuck on the depth chart behind some of the league’s best.
“When you get behind a guy like Eddie Murray, Morten Andersen and John Carney, the chips are stacked against you,” he said. “Basically for the next two years, I kind of lived out of my suitcase. It’s kind of an unfulfilled chapter of my life, but there’s a lot of guys like me. You just got to be in the right place at the right time.”
Andrews said he still keeps in contact with many of the men he played with and for. He values the time he spent at Florida State and spent time with his former head coach earlier this year.
“I just spent some time with Coach Bowden at Palm Beach County boosters,” Andrews said. “It was kind of a honor to sit there at the table with him, William Floyd, Mark Macek and a few other players. We had such a great family with coaches, staff, players, fans. Sometimes in today’s era, you don’t really get the opportunity to develop that type of relationship. It was a great family environment and a great opportunity and I was real fortunate to get to play when I did.”
Andrews said in the 25 years since he last played for Florida State, he’s had the opportunity to reflect on the accomplishments of the teams he played on and has grown to more appreciate the life lessons he received from his coaches.
“I became more proud of it later in life than I did when I was there. It was an era that really set the stage for where we’re at now. Being young, you don’t kind of realize it with the coaching and the life tips you’re given,” Andrews said. “You get older and have families and start businesses and you move forward in life based on what was instilled in you. Coach Bowden and his staff, they really made an impact on people’s lives.”
Today, Andrews is looking to revolutionize sports head protection as part owner of a company called LDR Headgear. The company is in its second year and Andrews is looking to continue to grow.
“We saw the need in better head protection, particularly in wrestling and then it evolved to the soccer and lacrosse community,” Andrews said. “I’d love to get involved in helmets because our technology is second to none.
“Having spent quite a few year in the manufacturing world, I saw new techniques and ways to make stuff out of this new material called Contek,” Andrews added. “We’re one of two companies who have ever passed the Major League Baseball impact at 83 miles-per-hour with less than an inch think of material. We scored 26 percent lower on what they call the severity index scale.”
Andrews said he thinks big things are on the horizon and has been commended by a number of prominent figures in the sports world.
“Now, we’re just trying to get it out there and just a couple weeks ago, we were approached by some Olympic gold medalists — one of them being Dan Gable. They like what we’re doing and this has kind of become my passion.”
In addition to running and growing a business, Andrews is also a family man. He makes his home in Pompano Beach, Florida with his wife Nikki, of 14 years, their son Brady, 11 and daughter Shaye, 6.
“It’s a busy life,” Andrews said. “But it’s a really good life.”
Follow former Florida State kicker Richie Andrews on Twitter @LDRRich.