Navy Kicker Turns Last-Second Loss into a Lesson in Leadership


“I’ll never forget that my team wouldn’t let me fall,” he told me days later, “even though I’d just let them down.”

In the locker room, he sat with his helmet on, weeping as teammates and coaches approached him to say the defeat — Navy’s second straight loss to Army after a 14-year winning streak — was not his fault.

Moehring can’t recall the details because everything was a blur, and can you blame him? He had longed for that chance, and it became a nightmare, with a live audience of more than 68,000.

“There’s no way it can end like this,” he said to himself, again and again. “There’s something else we can do. There’s got to be something else.”

He agreed to talk to reporters, saying he needed to face his failure. He apologized. He didn’t make excuses. He said he felt blessed to play football.

“I’ll use this as motivation,” Moehring said. “I’ll get better. It’s the only option.”

Already, his cellphone was buzzing with text messages, emails, Facebook messages and Twitter shout-outs, many from people who had seen Moehring’s quotes online and were impressed with how he had handled the disappointment.

It was striking that those messages were overwhelmingly positive. They weren’t from Navy fans telling him how much he stunk — the kind of reaction that could be expected from fans of schools where football might as well be a major. The notes were mostly from strangers, who recognized Moehring’s effort and propped him up.

Generations of Navy football players also reached out, saying that he had tried his best and that was all Midshipmen could ever ask for. It felt as if a “giant net of a brotherhood was catching me,” said Moehring, who turned 21 several days after the game.

Other kickers sent support, too.

“Hey, man, last kick aside, I don’t even know how you made the first two in those conditions,” Eddy Pineiro, the kicker for Florida, said in a text message that made Moehring laugh.

A Kansas Highway Patrol officer sent a tweet to Moehring: “This field goal doesn’t define who you are.” With all due respect, Moehring would disagree.

That missed field goal will help define who he becomes. Moehring knows that now.

“It’s important for me to go through this,” he said. “If I made the kick, the glory would’ve faded. But with this, I can be an example of good sportsmanship, and that’s lasting.”

Moehring, an economics major from Bentonville, Ark., said he had thought a lot about what he could learn from his failure. His ruminations coincided with final exams, which began just a few days after Navy played Army. His term had included classes called Probability With Naval Applications, Labor Economics and Electrical Engineering.

Moehring also took a required course in leadership, which came in handy after the missed kick. In class, he had practiced how to put a positive spin on bad news and motivate people who were struggling. His professor, a former Navy SEAL, often talked to him after the class, giving advice on resilience and relating how the SEALs would succeed on missions that did not go as planned.

“It’s all about how you respond,” the professor would say. “People are going to see that and they’re going to say, ‘Is this a guy worth following?’”

Moehring knows people will be watching how he responds to the potentially crushing disappointment of his missed kick, and as a future naval officer — he hopes to fly planes someday — he feels compelled to be a role model. It’s why he chose Navy in the first place.

During his recruiting trip to Annapolis, the coaches didn’t rave about their waterside campus or their top-notch athletic facilities. They talked about character — a Navy player’s most important quality.

“They tell you straight up that it’s going to be hard, but that the reason they’re recruiting you is that you’re the type of person who, whenever put in an extreme circumstance, can handle it,” Moehring said. “That totally appealed to me.”

A few days after the Army-Navy game, Moehring watched tape of his kick and considered what had unfolded in those final seconds. And he gave himself a break.

“I actually crushed the football, so it was probably good from 53,” he said. “Given that there was snow and the length of the kick, realistically, the percentage of me making that kick was slim to none, given everything involved. But I still know it’s my job to make that kick every time.”

The day after his finals ended, Moehring opened a letter from the 1984 Navy lacrosse captain. It was another pep talk, just like the one from Baltimore Ravens kicker Justin Tucker, who had called to tell Moehring, “Great kick, but misses happen to the best of us.”

Later that day, at a Starbucks, a patron stopped Moehring to offer support. During an Uber ride even later that day, the driver chimed in with kind words, too.

But there is more to Moehring’s season. Navy has one game left: It will host Virginia in the Military Bowl on Thursday.

So, lesson learned. Moehring is moving on now.

“I’m just like, thanks, guys,” he said. “I’ll hit it next time.”

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