STILLWATER -- I looked over last Saturday at one of my broadcast partners on the Cowboys Radio Network, former Cowboys captain Deion Imade, right after we went to commercials following interviewing the number one kicker in the Big 12 Conference.
The Cowboys red-shirt freshman Alex Hale is a handsome 22-year-old native of Point Fredrick, New South Wales, Australia. He has a classic Australian accent, which I've heard Americans find attractive. Heck, I like listening to Australian, British, and Irish accents. My wife does as well. I jokingly said, I bet that Alex is popular. Deion started laughing and rolled his eyes, confessing that he was thinking the same thing.
Right now, Hale is popular and it has nothing to do with being from Australia, with being handsome, with an accent, but it has everything to do with being a perfect five-for-five on field goals to start his Oklahoma State kicking career. Get this, Hale's first field goal attempt in a real football game was when he trotted out to kick that 27-yard field goal in the first drive of the season against Tulsa. Hale is the top kicker after two games in the Big 12. His longest kick this season, a 44-yard boot last week in the 27-13 win over West Virginia looked like it would have been good from 60-yards, maybe more as John Holcomb suggested to Hale in the postgame interview on the radio broadcast.
"Yes, I was kind of in a groove. I treat it like practice," Hale said when complimented on the 44-yard make against West Virginia. "I was just doing my job."
Hale is kind of the poster boy for Oklahoma State special teams as the Cowboys prepare for game three this coming Saturday at Kansas with a 2:30 kick-off in Lawrence. It won't be Hale on the kick-off as that job belongs to his holder Jake McClure. McClure also backs up the starting punter Tom Hutton, a 30-year-old former Australian rules football player that is fourth in the Big 12 in punting with a 43.5-yard average. Red-shirt junior Matt Hembrough from Lisle, Ill, rounds out the specialists as the long snapper on punts and placement kicks.
Oklahoma State special teams, minus a fumble last week on a kick-off return that the Cowboys Jason Taylor II recovered, are off to a sensational start this season.
"Well I don't want to look in the bag and count what I've got with him," head coach Mike Gundy said of Hale specifically, but kind of thinking special teams overall. "He's just been good. I was afraid someone was going to ask that question, but he's been really good in August. I mean he's been really good. I don't know with kickers and punters. I don't have any idea what makes them tick or what they do. He doesn't say much, he's very calm, he's got good composure, he doesn't get rattled. They tell me his techniques good."
Gundy hired former Alabama long snapper M.K. Taylor before the 2018 season to serve as analyst for special teams and Taylor has done well. This preseason; recognizing the crazy climate created by the COVID-19 pandemic and the possibility because of testing, tracing, and quarantines of more players having to help out on special teams; Gundy schedule four special teams only practices. That is double the norm. I think you have to agree that was a smart move.
"We're 2-0 because in our first two games our special teams have been very good," Gundy said in weekly Zoom conference this week. "We certainly haven't done enough on offense to win games, and our defense has played well, but our special teams has been the deciding factor in my opinion in the first two games.
"We stressed (special teams) more this year. I changed somethings this year," continued Gundy. "I would like to take credit for it, but again when you're talking about special teams and kicking and punting it's hard to really decide what makes a difference unless you allot an enormous amount of time."
Gundy compares the time the Pokes put in to similar to what Kansas State used to do under Bill Snyder and likely still do under current head coach Chris Klieman.
"So we've made some adjustments on special teams and our approach this year," he concluded. "So far it's worked out well for us. I'm pleased with the results at this time."
Back to Hale, I watch him carefully on the sidelines during games because my pandemic location is on the end of the Oklahoma State bench where the specialists reside. Hale has his kicking net there and at the start of every offensive possession he goes over and takes at least a couple of practice kicks into the net. I can vouch that he hits every kick, in games, in practice, and into the net with the same intensity and power.
The 6-0, 204-pound Hale came to Oklahoma State from St. Edward's College back at home and made his way to California where he worked with John Carney at his training facility on being a football kicker.
Hale is athletic having played soccer and was All-District at St. Edwards. His father, Glenn, was a semi-professional rugby player in Australia and was set to join the professional league when he career was cut short due to injury. His older brother played college soccer. Alex has also been active in surfing and wakeskating and he was actually the Junior (under 19) Wakeskate World Champion before leaving Australia.
I know, I had to look it up, wakeskating is an adaptation of wakeboarding that employs a similar design of board manufactured from maple or fibreglass. Unlike wakeboarding, the rider is not bound to the board in any way, similar to the skateboard.
As we discovered in the radio interview, Hale is also a golfer.
"Yes, I actually do," Hale said of playing golf. "I'd say I'm okay."
Translated, he is probably just a tad below Greg Norman and if you ever see him out at Lakeside in Stillwater try to get at least six strokes if you are playing for money or even a sandwich. He likely would just give you the sandwich as Hale logged at least 30 hours of community service from seventh grade through high school. He's still serving the community in his spare time.
Hale is a good student, Academic All-Big 12 his first year at Oklahoma State majoring in applied exercise science. He did play as a freshman. Hale kicked off five times with an average of 61.8-yards a kick. His field goals this season have been from 27, 40, 29, 40, and 44-yards. It is a team effort on those field goals.
"It helps me a ton and I'm very confident in my snapper (Matt Hembrough) and my holder (Jake McClure)," Hale said. "They do a great job everyday and make my job a lot easier. They give me a lot of confidence and I have a lot of confidence in my protection."
Hale should have a lot of confidence period. Oklahoma State fans should have confidence in him as well. Alex Hale looks like he's got a chance to follow in the tradition of some very distinguished and decorated kickers at Oklahoma State and keep the head coach feeling good about the special teams.