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Jeff Hunter
Utah State sophomore placekicker Dominik Eberle was a finalist for the Lou Groza Award this year after converting 16 of 18 field-goal attempts during the regular season.
He’s got a really good mentality. He’s a tough guy, and he’s shown that toughness. —Utah State special teams coach Mark Tommerdahl

LOGAN — Dominik Eberle always believed that he would make a name for himself playing football.

He just had the continent and the shape of the ball wrong.

“I grew up playing soccer in Germany and got high up in the ranks of the youth program there,” Utah State’s sophomore place-kicker says. “I got pretty noticed there, and I was actually at this national soccer camp in Germany when, while we were driving back home, my dad told me that we going to move to the U.S.”

Raised in Nuremberg by a German father (Güenther Eberle) and an American mother (Carmen Romero-Eberle), 14-year-old Dominik soon found himself living in Redondo Beach, California. And while he still played soccer in high school, Eberle ended up notching more field goals than goals for the Sea Hawks of Redondo Beach Union High.

“I was kind of shocked at first,” he says of his family’s sudden relocation to Southern California. “But I still had the dream of being a professional soccer player in the U.S. Then one of my best friends suggested, ‘Hey, maybe you should start kicking a football. It’s a lot of fun, and maybe you could make a living out of it one day.’

“So, I started playing. It was a lot of fun, and I fell in love with it and just kept pursuing it.”

Fast-forward to the night of Dec. 7, 2017. By way of northern Bavaria, Southern California and northern Utah, Eberle somehow found himself walking the red carpet at the Home Depot College Football Awards Show in Atlanta.

One of three finalists for the vaunted Lou Groza Collegiate Place-Kicker Award, Eberle was all smiles as he attended the event, which is broadcast live by ESPN.

“It was really cool. He handled himself first-class,” says Aggie head coach Matt Wells, who was also at the program along with USU athletic media relations director Doug Hoffman. “To see that knucklehead signing autographs on the red carpet was funny. Doug and I laughed. But Dominik handled himself like a pro.”

Eberle, who redshirted his first year as a walk-on at Utah State in 2015, took over the starting place-kicker duties last spring and ended up putting together arguably the best season ever by a USU kicker. The 6-foot-2, 180-pounder has converted 16 of 18 field-goal attempts this year as he and the Aggies prepare to play in the NOVA Home Loans Arizona Bowl on Dec. 29 in Tucson, Arizona.

Eberle’s conversion rate of 88.9 percent is just better than the 86.7 percent mark that former Aggie Russ Moody notched while going 13 for 15 on field-goal attempts in 1988.

Eberle is also 40 for 40 this year on extra-point tries, leaving him with 88 total points — two points shy of Nathan Morreale’s 1993 school record for most points scored by a kicker. And Wells couldn’t be happier with Eberle’s kickoffs this season.

“Did anyone think we’d ever talk about Dominik Eberle like we have?” Wells says. “The guy never kicked off in a game, but he’s kicked over 53 percent of his kicks out of the end zone and didn’t have any go out of bounds. Did I think he would do that kicking off? I don’t think so.”

Serving as senior Brock Warren’s backup during the 2016 season, Eberle converted 3 of 5 field goal attempts, with all three of those makes coming during USU’s wild, 38-37 loss at Nevada on Nov. 19. Eberle, who missed from 47 yards out at Wyoming and from 46 yards at BYU, connected from 43, 22 and 20 yards away in Reno.

“I was always conscious of my ability. Honestly, it was just about being patient,” Eberle says. “I had a lot of respect for the guys that were in front of me. They truly showed me the ropes here, and I value them and everything that I learned from them.

“It’s just about waiting for your opportunity, and when it came in the Nevada game, I took advantage of it.”

Initially recruited by former USU special teams coach Dave Ungerer, Eberle has also benefitted from working in California with former Aggie kicker Brad Bohn, who played at Utah State from 1997-2000. Now the owner of the West Coast Kicking Academy in Orange County, California, Bohn still holds the Utah State record for career field goals with 59.

“He just messaged me on Twitter one day during my senior year and said, ‘Hey, I used to go to Utah State, and I have this kicking academy not too far away from you,” Eberle says. “I’d go out there every Sunday and work with him and some other kickers like USC’s Chase McGrath, who’s had a really good year, as well.

“Going to that academy and seeing other kids being successful really helped. I feel like Brad really makes great adjustments. He knows a lot about kicking, and, overall, he’s just a great guy who cares for every single one of his students.”

After last season, Eberle decided to eliminate as many distractions as possible so he could focus more on his kicking. Of course, he still had to attend school. Then there was an offseason job as a waiter at Elements restaurant in Logan. That left social media. And on Feb. 12, Eberle posted a message on Twitter declaring that he wouldn’t return to the site until Jan. 1, 2018.

“Real talk. The fun is over,” Eberle declared. “… I’m dedicating every single minute of my time to football. I’m going to be the greatest ever, nothing is gonna stop me because I know the best version of myself will be just that. Hold me to it, my teammates, friends, and family deserve nothing less.”

While he admits to returning to Instagram about eight months after his proclamation, Eberle says he’s still happy that he left the Twitter world behind.

“I was constantly comparing myself to others, and it was mostly about people that were irrelevant, and that just took me off of my personal goals,” he explains. “It was one of those things where I knew I needed to focus on what I do. Really find myself as a kicker, and what I need to do.”

The results, obviously, say it all. The Aggies, who have had an erratic kicking game in recent years, have an offensive weapon that they know they can count on.

“He has really paid his dues,” USU special teams coach Mark Tommerdahl says of Eberle. “He was a waiter until August. He would come to practice, and then leave to go be a waiter. He has paid his dues, and he got his scholarship the old-fashioned way — he earned it.

“… He’s got a really good mentality. He’s a tough guy, and he’s shown that toughness. If he makes a mistake, he can correct it.”

The first Aggie football player to be named a finalist for a national award since Merlin Olsen won the Outland Trophy in 1961, Eberle ended up watching Utah place-kicker Matt Gay walk away with the Lou Groza Award on Dec. 7. But Wells says Eberle handled the defeat “like a pro” and that “he was gracious in defeat.”

“We shared a private conversation about five minutes after that, and I’ll tell you what, I think he’s motivated for next year,” Wells says. “He is very well-spoken, but he also thinks very, very clearly. He can internally motivate himself very well.

“I think you’ll see a motivated kicker in the bowl game and next year. That may not be the last time he's on that stage.”

Eberle certainly doesn’t think so.

After recognizing the great teamwork of Aggie long snapper Emmett Odegard and holder DJ Nelson in what he’s been able to accomplish this season, the German native who speaks flawless English declares: “That is one of my personal goals, to win the Lou Groza.”

Which would mean more autographs for Utah State’s “knucklehead” to sign.

“I grew up wanting to be a soccer pro,” Eberle says matter of factly. “So, signing autographs was just one of those things I thought I was going to do when I made it there.”