All Texas Longhorns head coach Charlie Strong could do was shake his head and laugh at the reporter’s question. Searching his mind for a sunshine pumping, coach speak answer, he only drew a blank. There was no sugar coating the situation.
That moment Strong, and Longhorn fans everywhere, came to terms with a glaring question mark that seemingly had no answer—the Texas kicking game. It was only an April press conference, but the third year coach knew the Longhorns couldn’t head into their season opener with the current depth chart where not a single player returned with kicking experience in a college game.
"I don't know who [another option] would be because we have our guys here now," Strong said. "We didn't sign a kicker.”
In desperation, the Texas coach threw out a Hail Mary plead.
“If you find me a kicker, send him to me. I need him."
At that moment, Strong probably didn’t realize how important his comment would be. However, that remark was the beginning of the solution to Texas’ kicking problem and marked the start of current Longhorns kicker Trent Domingue’s journey to Austin, even though he didn’t know it yet.
From Domingue’s standpoint, his journey officially started in early July when LSU head coach Les Miles told Domingue he would not be renewing his scholarship for the upcoming 2016 season. The starting place kicker for the Tigers and a Lou Groza semifinalist in 2015 was frustrated by Miles’ decision.
A few days later, he surprised college football observers when he announced his intentions to leave the LSU program.
Searching for a scholarship and a chance to kick, Domingue sorted through his options where to play his final season. That’s when his fiancée, Emily, showed him an article about Charlie Strong commenting that he needed a kicker. Maybe it was even the one from BON.
“I kind of just was looking around and actually my fiancée sent a link that said Coach Strong needed a kicker,” Domingue said. “I didn't really think much of it at the time, but I kind of just gathered all my resources and looked up the rosters and stuff.”
Luckily for the Longhorns, Trent’s interest took off from there. He connected with Texas defensive line coach Brick Haley, who had coached at LSU while Domingue was there, and struck up a relationship with the coaching staff. In talking to the coaches and researching Austin, he realized Texas was the perfect fit.
“They said they needed a kicker and that was probably the biggest thing obviously, but the fact that it's in Austin is pretty cool,” he said. “I just knew that Austin was awesome and UT is awesome too, as a school and everything, and the graduate program — it's just awesome to be here.
Coming in at a thin, inexperienced position group, Domingue’s presence was obviously going to be valued by the Texas coaches. A week into fall camp, however, he has also impressed his fellow teammates with his leadership and talent.
“Anytime we can add someone to our team that's going to help us win, that's going to be a plus for everyone. So it'll be good to have him out there kicking field goals,” safety Dylan Haines said on Tuesday. “If he's kicking the way he's been kicking the last few years at LSU then I assume he'll have no problem being a great kicker for us.”
One of the most talented kickers in all of college football in 2015, Domingue seems to solve the Longhorns’ glaring special teams issue. Last season at LSU, Domingue shined as he went 13 of 17 on field goals, including a streak of ten consecutive made kicks.
In addition, he went 49 of 50 on PATs with his only miss coming against Alabama on a blocked attempt. While he missed from his only attempt of more than 50 yards, Domingue has shown he can be consistent from distance as he went 3 of 4 on kicks from 40 to 49 yards. His performance also earned him those aforementioned honors as a Lou Groza semifinalist.
But despite the clutch kicks and accolades, Domingue is probably best known for his go-ahead touchdown against Florida in an important SEC contest. He has a few fake field goal ideas now, but isn’t sure if Strong will use them.
Heading into 2016, Texas just has to hope the big moments for Domingue, like that against Florida, will translate to the bright lights in Austin.
As a Lou Groza Award watch list member, the expectations are even higher than they were last year. And while he may not end up being the nation’s best kicker, one thing is for certain — with Domingue on the Texas roster, Strong finally found his guy.