Going into this Sunday's Super Bowl in Arizona, some fans of the New England Patriots are likely to have divided loyalties. A key player for the Seattle Seahawks, kicker Steven Hauschka, is a native of Needham, Massachusetts, and graduated from Vermont's Middlebury College in 2007.
"He was probably the first pick of a lot of fantasy football teams in this area," said Bob Ritter, the head coach of Middlebury College's football team.
Hauschka helped the Seahawks to a Super Bowl win last year, and is looking to repeat this Sunday against the Patriots. "It probably is not washing away my lifetime of being a Patriots fan," said Ritter, a native of Holden, Massachusetts. "I think where I am now is: I hope Steve kicks six field goals and the Pats win by one, you know?"
Hauschka visited the small Vermont liberal arts school in April 2014. As an undergraduate, he studied neuroscience, took pre-med courses, and considered a career in dentistry before setting his sights on the NFL. After graduating from Middlebury, Hauschka played for North Carolina State for a season. He then bounced around several NFL squads before settling into a groove with Seattle.
"You learn pretty early that you've got to work hard to stay in the game," Hauschka told WPTZ-TV last April. "Just continually trying to improve is what I learned."
Ritter said Hauschka is incredibly cool in pressure situations, using yoga, stretching, and other techniques to prepare his body and mind. Ritter pointed to Hauschka's NFL field goal success rate of more than 85 percent as proof of how hard he has worked to hone his technique.
Jake Lebowitz, a Middlebury senior who was an offensive lineman for Ritter's Panthers, told New England Cable News since it's so rare for the Division III college to produce pro athletes, students are paying extra attention to the Super Bowl. Lebowitz said Middlebury students, regardless of whether they root for the Patriots, Seahawks, another team, or no team at all, have been talking about the alum's spot in the Super Bowl.
"You could even say it's a point of pride for non-athletes," Lebowitz said. "To have somebody from Middlebury representing the team, representing the league, in the Super Bowl in back-to-back years, has to be something that all 23-2400 of us are very proud of."
"He's an easy guy to root for and there's a lot of people who are really rooting for him," Ritter said of Hauschka, admitting his own loyalties will still lie with the Patriots. "I'm rooting for him. Again, just to come up a little short!"