Written by Sarah Bergstrom, USC blog contributor
The Coliseum was on its feet. Every Trojan, from student to professor to alumnus to child, refused to take a breath. An instant classic had just been played before their collective eyes, 59 minutes and 41 seconds (in football time) of grit on the gridiron culminating in one final play. USC had driven down the field to the Stanford 29, setting up a 47-yard field goal attempt that, if made, would mean a USC upset over No. 4 ranked Stanford. It would mean another victory in the Coach O era. It would mean redemption for the Trojans who had lost the past four meetings with the Cardinal, and, for junior kicker Andre Heidari.
Go back a couple years in Heidari's life, three to be precise, and the young kicker was in a different type of pressure situation. Heidari was a talented high school recruit, an UnderArmour All-American, choosing where he wanted to spend the next four years. He picked USC, enrolled in the spring as an early entrant, and became the starting kicker for the Trojans at the age of 18. But his youth was never an issue as Heidari would go on that season to hit 15-of-17 attempts and all 50 of his PAT tries. At the conclusion of the year, his percentage was third in the nation among kickers with at least 10 made field goals and he was named a Freshman All-American.
Heidari's sophomore year was interrupted by a knee injury, but the kicker hit 10-of-16 field goals, was 39-of-41 on PAT attempts and made All-Pac-12 honorable mention. But this season, his third year at USC, Heidari's road has been a little less smooth. In the Trojans' first seven games, the junior only made six of an attempted 11 field goals, including two misses in the team's heart-breaking three-point loss to Washington State.
Heidari also missed two field goals in the Trojans' close loss to Notre Dame, leading head coach Ed Orgeron to open up a kicking competition the following week in practice. Orgeron said he believed the kicking challenge helped Heidari rise to the occasion considering that weekend against Utah, he kicked a career-best four field goals helping his team to a 19-3 victory. Heading into the Stanford game on Saturday, Heidari had only missed one field goal and one extra point since his turn-around against Utah.
All things seemed to be pointing in the right direction for the kicker as the Trojans' began the biggest game of their season against the Cardinal. At the whistle, Heidari launched a 61-yard kickoff to begin a battle that required nearly-perfect execution on USC's behalf if it wanted to come away with a win. However, about six minutes later, following a Soma Vainuku touchdown catch, Heidari missed his PAT.
"I knew the boys on my team had my back at that point in the game," said Heidari explaining his feelings after the missed attempt. "We went for that 2-point conversion and got it and I praised them for having my back."
All of the questions that had swirled around the capability of the junior kicker in earlier weeks of the season came rushing back to the minds of those watching. But Heidari never doubted himself.
"That first PAT was on me but I was there in the end, and that's all that matters," he said.
As the seconds ticked away in the fourth quarter, the field goal posts loomed 47-yards down the field. The team had fought to the finish leaving everything on the field to put themselves in this position to win. As Heidari took the field to attempt the kick, junior safety Dion Bailey sat down, closed his eyes, and started praying. He couldn't watch as his kicker made the attempt, but had full confidence in Heidari to make the winning score.
"I knew he could make it," said Bailey. "That's what he does in practice. The team got to that point, moved down the field, and set it up knowing he would put it through."
Heidari said he looked at the kick the same way he does each week in practice. "It's a straight kick no matter what. You still have a straight line, you still have got to hit a target, still have to do all the little things right technique wise," said the junior. "Looking at the 47-yarder, it's the same shot we practice every day. Three steps back, two steps over, hit the target."
And hit the target he did. Moments later, as Stanford ran out of time with one final play, the Coliseum crowd finally exhaled and engulfed the field in a sea of cardinal and gold. The Trojans had done it, and Heidari had done it.
The mantra of this team under Coach O has been, "One team, one heartbeat." Heidari credits his teammates' support for him throughout the entire game for enabling him to finish the way he did. Saturday night was the first game-winning kick in his entire football career and he couldn't have picked a better night to do it.
"It's really fun," Heidari said. "That's what kickers live for, for competition and game-winning field goals. It's a great feeling. I'm glad I'm on this team. I wouldn't want to be anywhere else."