I'm going to miss Aldrick Rosas. I saw him as part of our young core of players who could play for the team for years to come. I hope he navigates his legal issues, faces his personal problems that have lead to this situation and comes out at the end of this in a better place.
The incredible story of Aldrick Rosas' journey from small Oregon school to Giants' kicker
ARLINGTON, Texas -- "December 19, 2014."
Aldrick Rosas can immediately cite the exact date of the last time he kicked in a game that counted.
It's a day that Rosas will never forget for different reasons. He was the kicker for the Southern Oregon University (SOU) team that won the NAIA national championship and he tore the ACL in his right knee while making a tackle on a return late in the game.
Nearly three years have passed since Rosas connected on a pair of field goals in front of a crowd of 1,941 in that national championship game. On Sunday night, Rosas will kick for the Giants against the Cowboys in front of 90,000 fans at AT&T Stadium.
So how did Rosas go from the lowest level of college football to kicking for a Super Bowl contender seemingly overnight?
'A DREAM THAT WAS SO FAR AWAY'
Rosas grew up in Orland, California, a farm town of 7,000 located 100 miles north of Sacramento. He started kicking while at Orland High, but was known more as a running back and hard-hitting linebacker/safety.
"His brother was a free safety and them two back there were meaner than hell. You didn't go across the middle with those guys. He's an animal," Abel Hernandez said of the 6-foot-3, 221-pound Rosas. "Don't worry about a tackle. He will crush somebody."
Hernandez has worked with kickers in the Orland area for 20 years, including Colts rookie punter Rigoberto Sanchez. Hernandez had heard about Rosas for a few years before they started working together before Rosas' senior season.
Northern California is an under-recruited area. Case in point: Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers, who is from nearby Chico, spent a year at a local community college before earning a scholarship to Cal. So, it was no surprise that Rosas didn't have any Division 1 scholarship offers. He received a 20 percent scholarship to SOU, so he decided to attend the small school located 15 miles north of the California border.
SOU is a member of the NAIA, which is an association of mostly small schools not regulated by the NCAA. Rosas made 25-of-32 field goals (78 percent) with a long of 48 yards in two seasons at SOU.
That wasn't exactly the resume of a future NFL kicker.
"In the NAIA, no one in the locker room is going to the NFL," Rosas said. "It was a dream that was so far away."
The dream was in serious jeopardy after Rosas tore the ACL in his kicking leg while making a tackle on a return with less than nine minutes remaining in SOU's 55-31 win over Marian (Ind.) University in the 2014 NAIA national championship game.
"I hit him and my knee just buckled," Rosas said. "We blew them out, so I could have let him go and we would have been fine."
Rosas struggled to navigate SOU's hilly campus on crutches in the spring of 2015, so he decided to transfer to Butte College, the same school Rodgers had attended.
"(SOU) was real expensive. I was missing a lot of class," Rosas said. "So I just said, 'Ahh, screw it, I'm going to come home.' "
Rosas' knee wasn't healthy enough to kick in the fall of 2015 and he was running into roadblocks with getting his credits to transfer to other schools.
"After the surgery, he didn't know what to do," Hernandez said. "He was tripping out. His mind was gone. He was going depression-wise. I just said, 'Relax, dude. Don't worry. The leg is still there. You've just got to go work.' "
Unbeknownst to Rosas during his time of uncertainty, he had landed on the radar of veteran NFL agent Derrick Fox.
GOING FOR IT
Fox has been an agent for nearly 30 years, mostly notably representing five-time Pro Bowl receiver Steve Smith during a 16-year career. The Southern California-based Fox also has found a niche representing specialists, with Cowboys punter Chris Jones and Bills punter Colton Schmidt currently on his client roster.
Fox first heard of Rosas during the fall of 2014 from a friend at the College of Idaho, who had witnessed Rosas booming kickoffs out of the end zone. Fox didn't give much thought to a sophomore kicker at an NAIA school at the time.
Then in the fall of 2015, a scout from the Eagles mentioned to Fox that there was talk that Rosas could enter the 2016 draft. The scout suggested giving the under-the-radar prospect with a powerful leg a look and Fox made a mental note to follow up on the recommendation.
Then in February of 2016, Mycal Swaim, a former client from Chico, told Fox that he needed to check out Rosas. Finally, Fox and Rosas connected.
Despite having two years of college eligibility remaining, Rosas had already declared for the 2016 draft before the mid-January deadline.
"I was starting to call schools and the closer it was getting to the deadline, I was like, 'You know what, (forget) it. I'm just going to go. School is always going to be there. I feel like I'm in the greatest physical shape right now,' " Rosas said. "And I just went for it."
The decision shocked Hernandez.
"If he was my son, I don't think so," Hernandez said. "But he was just like, 'I'm done. I'm going.' There was nothing I could say. The only thing I could say was, "Let's go!' "
Rosas tried unsuccessfully to get invited to a pro days at Division 1 schools to get seen by NFL scouts. Fox requested film that he could send to teams, so Rosas and Hernandez went to a local field with a video camera.
Fox sent the film to all 32 special teams coaches. Titans special teams coach Steve Hoffman showed the most interest, requesting additional film.
Hoffman was sold and the Titans promised to sign Rosas as an undrafted free agent.
"I had the guy at College of Idaho, I had the guy at the Eagles and I had the client, but I needed a special teams coach from the NFL," Fox said. "Once Hoffman got on, because of my respect for Steve, I just went, 'Hey, Aldrick, we're going to run with this thing.' "
The Titans gave Rosas a $1,000 signing bonus after the 2016 draft. Fox knew Rosas faced long odds to unseat veteran kicker Ryan Succop, but the exposure in preseason games was invaluable to the unknown 21-year-old.
Rosas was perfect last preseason, but he only attempted one field goal and four extra points. The Titans waived Rosas on cut-down day at the end of the preseason.
"This time last year I was on a plane home really wondering what was in the future," Rosas said.
But NFL teams, including the Giants, saw enough to ensure future opportunities for Rosas.
'A DREAM COME TRUE'
The Giants' kicking situation was a mess last season due to the domestic violence saga involving Josh Brown. The Giants cut unproven Tom Obarski and signed veteran Randy Bullock in the preseason after it was announced that Brown would be suspended for the opener.
The Giants held a workout for kickers days before last season's opener that included veterans Shayne Graham and Cody Parkey, and Rosas. Rosas performed well, but the Giants went back to Brown after his suspension ended.
When the Giants cut Brown after more domestic violence accusations surfaced in Week 7, they signed veteran Robbie Gould. Meanwhile, Rosas had workouts with the Vikings and Cowboys, but remained unsigned for the entire season.
"Special teams coaches in the NFL hate to have a guy that's never kicked on Sunday come in in the middle of the season," Fox said. "That's what we faced all last year."
While the Giants didn't sign Rosas, assistant general manager Kevin Abrams called Fox every 2-3 weeks to reiterate the team's interest in the young kicker. As soon as the season ended, the Giants signed Rosas to a futures contract.
The Giants told Fox that they didn't plan to bring in another kicker, allowing special teams coordinator Tom Quinn to focus all of his energy on refining Rosas' technique. Fox was skeptical, but Rosas was the only kicker on the roster all offseason until veteran Mike Nugent was signed in the first week of training camp.
A tight competition ensued, with Rosas and Nugent both making every kick they attempted in the preseason. Nugent turned up the heat by nailing 50- and 54-yard field goals in the third preseason game. But Rosas responded by connecting on four field goals, including a 48-yard game-winner as time expired against the Patriots in the preseason finale.
Rosas' performance sealed the kicking job, which became official two days later when the Giants cut Nugent.
"It was a dream come true," Rosas said. "It was a moment of excitement. There were just a lot of feelings that I can't even explain. But I'm grateful for the opportunity."
It's an opportunity that was completely improbable two years ago.
"He answered every obstacle that was put in front of him and he always has," Fox said. "That's why it's such a great underdog story. He could have tripped himself along the way, but he just didn't. And this is just the beginning."