By MATTIAS KAREN, Associated Press
Aside from his ability to boot the ball through the uprights from almost kind of angle or distance, Havard Rugland is a complete stranger to the American version of football.
And yet the 28-year-old Norwegian, without having played a single game at any level of the sport, is suddenly pursuing a shot at making it to the NFL. And it's all because of a YouTube video.
Sound incredible? Well, so are some of the kicks and tricks Rugland can pull off with his powerful left leg.
That's why the video he put together for some friends has turned him into an Internet sensation, with 2 million views and counting. And that's why the same video turned into an inadvertent auditioning tape — earning him a tryout last month with the New York Jets.
At a time when people are increasingly taking to social media to showcase their talent, Rugland might be on the verge of going from viral-video-of-the-week to pro athlete.
"I never would have thought it would come to this," he said during a recent phone interview from his home in southern Norway. "I put the film up mostly for friends and family. But as it turns out, there were a lot more people who liked it. It's overwhelming."
Must be, for someone whose only previous experience with football was the European soccer version, and who has only a sketchy familiarity with the rules of the American game. Living in Aalgaard, a town with less than 10,000 people, he started kicking for fun about a year ago after his local soccer club shut down and he needed another outlet.
Having seen other online videos of people doing tricks with Frisbees and basketballs, he figured he'd make one with footballs to showcase his booming leg. He posted it online in mid-September, and three months later he was auditioning for the Jets.
So what is it about his four-minute video — "Kickalicious" — that has people so impressed? Well, the footage of him kicking field goals from 60 yards and soccer-style volleys through the uprights is the least of it.
His more spectacular repertoire includes kicking the ball into a basketball hoop — nothing but net — and into the arms of people in moving cars, floating down a lake in a boat, or atop a hill. For his grand finale, he casually punts one football into the air, then kicks a second ball off a tee so it hits the first one in midair.
"I'm probably the most satisfied with the last kick, which is the one I've received the most compliments about," Rugland said. "I needed eight tries before I pulled it off."
He insists there was no trickery with the actual filming — done with two brothers and a friend — but said he needed several attempts to pull off some of the other kicks as well. When local media picked up his story, a Norwegian broadcaster reviewed the video to make sure it was real, silencing some skeptics who believed it must have been doctored.
And unlike so many other posted videos, interest in Rugland's kicks only grew.
While it was racking up hits in the hundreds of thousands, Rugland received an email from Scott Cohen, assistant general manager of the Jets, who was interested in giving him a workout.
Rugland wondered if he was being scammed.
"When I received that, obviously I was excited, but I had to check out the name and email address to make sure it was genuine, and not some friend who was pulling a prank," he said.
It was real. The Jets were genuinely interested — on the condition that Rugland spend some time with a kicking coach first to hone his skills. So the week after Thanksgiving, the Norwegian traveled to California to spend a few weeks with Michael Husted — a former NFL kicker who now runs a training camp in San Diego and had reached out to Rugland after seeing his video on a Facebook page.
Husted said he's often approached by soccer players interested in trying their hand — or foot, rather — at kicking field goals, hoping to become the next Sebastian Janikowski. But he had seen enough of Rugland in the video to know he was special.
"He's definitely the most impressive nonfootball kicker that I've worked with," Husted said by phone. "When he hits it, it's going to go. He hits it just as high, just as far as a lot of the NFL kickers, if not further."