Less than a year ago, Shaun Suisham was a nomadic kicker looking for a home in the NFL. Now, he looks like the Redskins' kicker of the future.
It helps when you can make huge game-winners.
With 9:27 left in overtime in the season-opener on Sept. 9, Suisham was true on a 39-yard field goal that lifted the Redskins to a 16-13 win over the Dolphins.
Miami had tried to freeze Suisham with a time out, but he remained composed and converted his third field goal of the game.
As the kick sailed through the uprights, the 90,000-plus at FedExField let out a deafening roar, while Suisham was mobbed by his teammates and the band played "Hail to the Redskins." He called it the biggest kick he has ever made.
"I've been working on game-winners all my life, and this is actually my first one," he said. "It's real exciting and special to be a part of a victory like this."
Suisham seems like a special player. After short stints with three teams since entering the league in 2005--the Cowboys, Steelers and 49ers--he signed with the Redskins about two-thirds into last season and took over the place-kicking duties with five games left and has since been stellar.
After missing his first field goal, a 50-yarder, he has made 11 straight (through this year's season-opener), including a 52-yarder that sent the Redskins' game last season against St. Louis into overtime. He's also been perfect on extra points, and his kickoffs have been consistently long.
Suisham's accuracy is a relief to the Redskins and everyone else frustrated by the revolving door at the team's placekicking position. He's the 16th Redskins kicker since Chip Lohmiller, the second-leading scorer in team history, was cut before the 1995 season.
Regarding his success, the 6-0, 197-pound Suisham praised Redskins special teams coach Danny Smith for setting a practice schedule that prevents the kicker's right leg from getting worn down.
He also credited his holder, punter Derrick Frost, and long snapper Ethan Albright. In his view, the more he works with Frost and Albright, the easier things will become.
"Derrick is very, very good at what he does, and Ethan has been around forever," Suisham said. "He's a constant in this league. So between the two of them, it makes my job that much easier. I anticipate continuing to grow and improve just based on them alone."
Once upon a time, Suisham had his sights set on another sport. In southern Ontario, where he grew up, hockey is a way of life, a religion so to speak, for Canadian boys.
Suisham was no different. He played defenseman for club and school teams and hoped to some day compete in the National Hockey League.
Suisham also played football and soccer. In high school, where his uncle coached the football team, he converted field goals of 58, 57 and 52 yards, and his family sent videos of those kicks to colleges in the United States.
Suisham received a scholarship to Bowling Green, where he kicked his way to becoming the Falcons' all-time leading scorer (361 points) and set a school record for field goals (45) and an NCAA record for extra points made (226 of 233).
Today, if he had a choice between playing pro hockey or pro football, Suisham said he'd rather be kicking footballs.
"Standing in my shoes right now, I wouldn't trade this position for anything in the world," he said. "I love what I do. I never would have anticipated being a kicker in the NFL, but now that I'm here I wouldn't trade it for anything."
No matter what he says, and no matter that he's firmly entrenched as the Redskins' kicker, the hockey bug remains alive in Suisham.
Last season, he visited the Washington Capitals' locker room after a game at Verizon Center and felt a kinship with the players.
"They were great to me," he said. "There's just a lot of people in the organization from southern Ontario, around where I grew up. There was a bond.
"They took me in there and showed me around. I got to meet a lot of the guys. That was really a thrill for me, and I hope to do it again this year."