Mustang kickers give team a leg up on league

Brandon Vandecaveye // Special to Western NewsWestern boasts a strong legacy of kickers that can be traced back to the beginning of the program, but recent success can be measured on four feet – Darryl Wheeler, Lirim Hajrullahu, Zack Medeiros, and Marc Liegghio, above.

In Canadian football, the kicker is the ‘X’ factor. As one of the most specialized players on the field, the kicker often holds the fate of the game in his hand – or, more appropriately, on his foot.

Throughout the years, the Western Mustangs have boasted some of the strongest kickers in Canadian university football history, with many of these players continuing their careers into the Canadian Football League (CFL).

This strong legacy of kickers can be traced back to the beginning of the program, but recent success can be measured on four feet – Darryl Wheeler, Lirim Hajrullahu, Zack Medeiros, and Marc Liegghio.

Wheeler, a former Mustangs player and current Mustangs coach, joined Western in 2008. While he made a tremendous impact to the program as a player, he has continues to shape the team as the Mustangs kicking coach. Working with Hajrullahu, Medeiros, and Liegghio, Wheeler has been influential in developing his successors.

Hajrullahu is a former Mustang, Winnipeg Blue Bomber, Toronto Argonaut, and current Hamilton Tiger-Cat. When he finished his Mustangs career, he held the CIS (now U Sports) title as the all-time leading scorer with 422 points. He also set an OUA record with 77 field goals.

Undoubtedly one of the best kickers in Canadian university football, he proved this in the final minutes of the 2010 Yates Cup championship game where he booted a last-minute 34-yard field goal to secure Western’s 29th Yates Cup title with a 26-25 victory over the Ottawa Gee-Gees.

Now a CLF athlete, Hajrullahu continues to support the Mustangs football program by partnering with Wheeler to host kicking camps for young aspiring players in Ontario.

In 2014, Medeiros joined the Mustangs. During his year on the team, Medeiros scored 105 points to tie for first in the CIS. In the playoff season, he completed four of eight field goals, scored 17 points and made 16 punts for a total of 555 yards. Medeiros continued his highly successful kicking career in the CFL as an Edmonton Eskimo, Ottawa Redblack, Montreal Alouette, and a current Toronto Argonaut.

More recently, Liegghio is continuing the strong legacy of Mustangs kickers. He finished out his final season as a Mustang this year by setting the record for the most points scored in the OUA with 440 career points, 20 of which scored during the 2019 Homecoming game alone. That number places Liegghio as the second all-time leading scorer in Canadian university football history.

The senior also made Mustangs history by making six field goals in a single game, the most in Western history. This record ties him with Hajrullahu, who nailed six twice, and Wheeler.

Liegghio’s impressive statistics places him among the best kickers in U Sports history.

This legacy of Mustang kickers has persisted over the years and continues to be a distinguishing feature of the Mustangs football program.

Throughout Mustangs history, kickers have played a special role in the playoffs. They have clinched Yates Cup titles with minutes to spare and they have spurred the offence in high pressure situations to change the momentum of the game.

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Interview with Marc Liegghio, Mustangs kicker and U SPORTS record holder.

Q: What type of preparation goes into being a kicker?

A: Everyone thinks you don’t do much at practice, but I’m out an hour before everyone else and I’m doing my own thing while they’re getting dressed and getting warmed up. The mentality is you can’t be too nervous or take it too seriously. You have to be a football player that kicks not a kicker that plays football. I try to bring that mentality into the weight room and onto the field.

Q: How did you choose Western?

A: The decision was pretty straight forward. Western was where I wanted to go because my buddy was here, so I wanted to follow in his footsteps. He was a great player at our high school and he now plays in the CFL. Coach Marcus also really drove my passion to come to Western. I couldn’t find a better fit other than Western, it fit all the traits that I needed.

Q: What is your take on being a student-athlete?

A: It takes a lot of time management but being a student-athlete keeps you on a schedule. When you know what to do you know you have to work on it at certain times. Everyone’s accommodating though. We have a lot of support from the football team a lot of academic help from the teachers and if you need extra help they’re always there. King’s University College is really helpful and Main Campus is as well. Every teacher understands your position which is that you may not have a lot of time to do your homework because you have to commit to the sport as well.

Q: How much do you enjoy the role as a veteran?

A: It feels good to have all the young talent under you. They want your input on stuff; they want you to help them; they want to become who you were. They heard your story and how young you were when you were here and now that you’re the older guy on the team they want to hear how you got to this point. I luckily have a rookie under my belt this year which is helpful because I get to teach him what I’ve done.

Q: What is the art of being a kicker?

A: It’s really different. When we’re punting inside the opponent’s 50 or punting in our 50 it changes the way you kick because you have to put more distance and more direction on it. Even with field goals you have to twist your hips more and align yourself differently. Each kick is different, but you still have to stick to your mechanics. The technical parts that you work on during practice to bring into the game and the time that you take to fool around with kicks come in handy during the game. When you use trick plays it’ll screw up the team’s returners by them not knowing where you’re kicking the ball.

Q: How quickly did the nickname ‘Legs’ come around?

A: It came pretty quick and it was my buddy’s dad that gave me the name because they said Liegghio to start and I said I think ‘Legs’ is better. Then he actually gave me the ‘Legs’ nickname and I’ve just stuck with it; I put it on my cleats that’s pretty much what should probably be on my jersey, too. Everyone calls me ‘Legs’ and it’s a good fit, what better name than a kicker to be Liegghio and just stick to ‘Legs.’