When Detroit Lions kicker, and 19-year NFL ironman, Jason Hanson suffered an MCL injury during the third quarter of last weekâ€™s heartbreaking, 23-20 overtime loss to the New York Jets, a door opened for former Michigan State kicker Dave Rayner.
Rayner was flipping through the channels Sunday to check scores, and noticed Hansonâ€™s unfortunate circumstances.
Low and behold, Rayner, who hasnâ€™t seen live action in the NFL since Week 7 of 2008 with the Cincinnati Bengals (38-10 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers) â€” received a timely phone call Monday, and he excitedly relayed the news to Spartan Nation Radio shortly after. Coming in for Hanson was a surprise to say the least.
â€œHeâ€™s tough as nails,â€ said Rayner. â€œHe never goes down â€“ heâ€™s been around forever, so I didnâ€™t really think much of it. And then I got a call Monday morning to come in for a workoutâ€¦â€
After winning the job, Rayner, an Oxford native, will don the Honolulu blue for the Lions (2-6), starting today against the hapless, and winless, Buffalo Bills (0-8) in Buffalo.
However, Rayner didnâ€™t get ahead of himself. One call is all it takes to end up a former pro, as he experienced the harsh reality first-hand when he was waived by the Bengals in September. With Hansonâ€™s status unclear, he is prepared to seize the moment and see where it takes him.
â€œ(Hanson) told me it would be two to three weeks at least,â€ said Rayner of Hansonâ€™s projected return. â€œIâ€™m kind of in it for whatever I can do â€¦ Iâ€™m just excited to get on with the team, and my family is excited.â€
Staying prepared is what kept Rayner a viable option for the Lions. Even after an approximately two-year lay-off from in-game kicking, the hometown product conditioned up to three times a week â€“ just in case.
Discipline was obviously a key factor to keeping in shape, but Rayner cited his father for instilling a relentless work ethic in him at an early age. Focus and discipline started at home for the now-28-year-old.
â€œHeâ€™s one of the hardest workers I know, and you know, itâ€™s one of those things that Iâ€™m competitive,â€ said Rayner. â€œI watch games on Sundays and know I can do what certain guys are doing. So itâ€™s just a matter of when you get that opportunity; you have to do go in and do your thing.â€
Consistency, consistency and more consistency â€“ Rayner has it.
As a pro; heâ€™s converted 48 of 49 extra point attempts and 42 of 59 field goals â€” including 16 touchbacks and a career-long 54-yard field goal.
So, minus the blistering winds, torrential downpours and lackluster weather that heâ€™s endured in Cincinnati, Kansas City and Green Bay (played with Indianapolis indoor; great weather in San Diego); Ford Field should serve as a prime venue for Rayner to showcase his abilities. In fact, kicking indoors makes most kickers better, right?
â€œI think it does,â€ he said. â€œIâ€™ve always been, obviously, kicking at Michigan State. In high school growing up, we never had the luxury of kicking indoors. I think it really does.
â€œI think itâ€™s actually prolonged Jasonâ€™s (Hanson) career. You never have to worry about the elements â€¦ I definitely think it does play a part â€¦ you have no excuse when you miss a field goal in a dome. You canâ€™t blame it on the weather; you canâ€™t blame it on the field. Itâ€™s all on the kicker, which I like.â€
Rayner talked about warming up and how he gauges his range. He said he doesnâ€™t back down when a coach asks him â€˜Can you hit a 60-yarder.â€™
But the important question is: How excited are you to kick for the Lions, Dave?
â€œYou know what man, I was pumped. It was weird â€” because at the same time, I was excited â€” but I felt this amazing amount of pressure,â€ he said. â€œIâ€™ve been to a bunch of workouts â€” Iâ€™ve done this for awhile. But, man, I probably had 20 phone calls yesterday and texts â€” people saying â€˜Hey man, this will be perfect: Hometown kid, hometown team â€¦ man, itâ€™s a fun thing, you know, itâ€™s a cool thing.â€
If things fall into place for one of the greatest Spartan kickers of all-time, a permanent position with Detroit could be in Raynerâ€™s future. He respects his predecessor, who has had, arguably, a Hall of Fame career. But there comes a time when the end of oneâ€™s road is the start of a new journey for another.
Thatâ€™s not to say Hansonâ€™s career is over, but Rayner â€” prepared as always, is ready should the Lions need his services on a full-time basis.
â€œIâ€™m Jasonâ€™s biggest fan â€”his body-of-work in unbelievable,â€ said Rayner. â€œIf I can have half the career heâ€™s had it would be awesome. At some point, you know, youâ€™ve got to give it up, and your body starts to give up â€¦ it would be awesome to get in here â€” I would love it. I would love to play for the hometown team and get to stay around this area. Itâ€™d be great, man. Weâ€™ll see â€” weâ€™ll see what happens.â€