A Foot in the Door

Not your average NFL kicker, record-setting newcomer Brandon Aubrey ’17 makes good on the longest of long shots.

Author: Greg McKenna ’23

During their freshman year together at Notre Dame, Dallas-area natives Brandon Aubrey ’17 and Jenn (Blum) Aubrey ’17 did their best to recreate respective family traditions. Jenn, whose parents hail from Kansas City, was accustomed to attending the Chiefs home opener every year. Brandon had never been to an NFL game, but every Sunday, his family would gather to watch the Cowboys.

Thankfully, Jenn notes today, conference separation prevented the two teams from playing each other too often, so she and her future husband seldom clashed over football allegiances. “We could kind of root for each other’s teams, because it wasn’t a direct competition,” she says.

The pair had met at a send-off event for incoming Notre Dame freshmen from the Dallas-Fort Worth area during their senior year of high school. They hung out a few more times before heading to South Bend. Jenn would join the women’s lacrosse team as a goalie, while Brandon was one of the highest-rated soccer recruits in Texas.

“I was chasing her down pretty hard,” he admits. “Wanted to make sure I didn’t let that one slip through the cracks.”

That Christmas, Brandon’s mother gifted him a Dez Bryant jersey in Cowboys blue. She made sure Jenn got a matching jersey for the star Dallas receiver in white.

“Forced her to wear it on game days,” Brandon recalls.

Jenn now wears her husband’s No. 17 to Cowboys games. Aubrey has gone from professional soccer player to software engineer to placekicker for “America’s Team,” playing in gargantuan AT&T Stadium after years of driving past “Jerry World,” its nickname in honor of team owner Jerry Jones, on his way to work. That professional journey wouldn’t have happened, he says, without Jenn.

“Definitely takes a team,” she agrees.

In 2023, a historically good year for NFL kickers, Aubrey was the league’s best. After starting his NFL career with a missed extra point, he nailed his first 35 field-goal tries, almost doubling the league record of 18 for consecutive makes to start a career. He finished with a league-high 36 field goals in 38 attempts. Against the reigning NFC champions and rival Philadelphia Eagles on December 10, he became the first kicker ever to convert two field goals of 59 yards or more in one game. By week 16, he had also set the NFL record for touchbacks on kickoffs.

While the Cowboys crashed out in a first-round playoff loss to Green Bay, Aubrey had already been named a first-team All-Pro in his debut NFL season. The moments when it all sinks in, he says, come randomly.

“I may be just mowing the lawn or watching TV, and I’m like, ‘Oh, crap, I’m in the NFL record books,’” he says. “It doesn't really feel real sometimes.”


Before embarking on a professional football career, Aubrey hadn’t put on pads and a helmet since middle school. Entering Plano Senior High School, he decided he had a better shot at earning a college scholarship as a soccer player than as a wide receiver.

During his freshman season at Notre Dame, he became an important part of the men’s varsity team, featuring as one of two Irish substitutes in the 2013 NCAA title game against Maryland. With the Irish clinging to a 2-1 lead, head coach Bobby Clark brought Aubrey on as a forward for the final 10 minutes as Notre Dame held on for its first and only national championship.

“He’d just quietly go on with his job,” Clark says of Aubrey, who would start at center back for the next three seasons, “and he never seemed to be fazed.”

Hours after the 2013 title game, Aubrey and his teammates were on a plane home to South Bend. Touching down around midnight, the players were greeted with a celebration at the Joyce Center, then headed to an off-campus house. Jenn volunteered to wake up Brandon and several fellow freshmen for their final exams the next morning.

More than just a steady defender, Aubrey would score 15 goals during his Notre Dame career and finish second on the team with nine during his senior season. At 6-foot-3, he was an obvious threat for heading the ball on free kicks, but he scored his most memorable goals while doing the kicking duties himself.

Early in his senior season, Aubrey smashed a dead ball from about 30 yards out that flew past a diving goalkeeper and off the underside of the crossbar, giving the Irish a sudden-death win over the eventual national champion, Stanford, in double overtime.

“He certainly could crack a ball,” Clark says, recalling the moment seven years later.

A week after the overtime winner, back in front of Jenn and his family at Alumni Stadium, Aubrey hit another beauty for his third goal in a win over Virginia Tech, making him the first Notre Dame player to record a hat trick in almost four years.

“It’s always been a blast to me,” he says, “trying to figure out how to hit a knuckle ball, or how to hit a ball that curves with the outside of your foot, or just kind of blast it and have it keep rising.”

Like his future gig kicking footballs, practicing set pieces naturally fit Aubrey’s character. He didn’t find it repetitive and boring.

“I’ve always been kind of a solitary guy,” he says, “and like to practice on my own.”

He built a reputation delivering in high-pressure situations. Aubrey scored all five penalty kicks the Irish earned after he assumed spot-kick duties during his sophomore year, and he enjoyed working with mental performance coaches at Notre Dame to establish his process.

“I think that helps and does really translate to kicking on the football field as well,” he says.

Some penalty takers approach the ball slowly, waiting for the goalkeeper to make a move.

Not Aubrey. He picked his spot and hit it.

Dallas Cowboys kicker Brandon Aubrey prepares to swing his leg through the ball on a field-goal attempt.
Getty Images

After earning All-America honors during his senior season, Aubrey was taken in the first round of the MLS SuperDraft by Toronto F.C. He joined a roster that would win the 2017 MLS Cup, training with United States Men’s National Team veterans Michael Bradley and Jozy Altidore. Aubrey only featured for the reserve team, however, and would never play a game in the top tier of American soccer. He made 26 appearances for Bethlehem Steel F.C. in 2018, then called it a career.

“I was disappointed for him,” says Clark, who retired a year after Aubrey’s senior season at Notre Dame and returned to his native Scotland. “I thought he had the ability.”

Sometimes, draft picks can be an afterthought for MLS front offices, Clark says. He’s not sure Aubrey truly got an opportunity to stand out.

“Maybe I wasn’t mentally prepared, or just prepared, to be in another country, away from my family and competing at that level,” Aubrey says.

As his soccer career wound down, Aubrey looked for jobs in software engineering. He and Jenn — who went to flight school while Aubrey was in Canada and became a pilot instructor for American Airlines — would soon marry and buy their first house.

Neither of them, however, had really given up on Brandon’s future as a professional athlete. Watching football with family one Sunday, Jenn started paying attention to the kickers. “I just know he has a really good leg, really good work ethic, and, obviously, he’s very mentally tough,” she says. She figured it had to add up.

The next day, the couple went to a sporting goods store, bought a kicking tee and headed to a local field. Brandon set up for a 60-yard kick and made it. It wasn’t necessarily pretty, but it was enough to prompt a Google search. He signed up for a free, Sunday instructional session with Brian Egan, a former kicker at Mississippi State — the first name that popped up. Egan didn’t immediately notice Aubrey’s age.

When he arrived at the field, Aubrey was already there. Egan turned to his coaching partner: “I don’t think that kid’s in high school.”


Hitting the ball with the instep of one’s foot, a so-called soccer-style kick, was foreign to American professional football until 1964, when Pete Gogolak, a Hungarian immigrant who had played college football at Cornell, debuted with the Buffalo Bills of the AFL in 1964 and officially challenged the custom of straight-on or straight-toe kicking.

His younger brother, Charlie, was taken sixth overall by Washington in the 1966 NFL Draft, still the earliest a kicker has been selected.

In the late spring of 1967, Clark traveled with Scottish club Aberdeen F.C. to play as the Washington Whips of the United Soccer Association, a league of teams imported from abroad. The younger Gogolak still enjoyed watching the game of his childhood — the family had fled Hungary following the failed revolution against Soviet rule in 1956 — and Clark recalls him stopping by the locker room to say hello. One of Clark’s teammates, defender Ally Shewan, took on Gogolak in a friendly halftime kicking competition.

By the mid-1980s, however, soccer-style kickers were ubiquitous in professional football, and the method was taking hold at the game’s lower levels. High school football is still king in North Texas, but the region’s status as one of the nation’s soccer hotbeds helps explain why it regularly produces elite kicking and punting talent.

For Egan, working with a former professional athlete from another sport, not to mention one who was married and had a full-time job, was a first. Aubrey realized he didn’t quite fit the target demographic, but he asked Egan if he saw any potential.

Egan didn’t shy away from the obvious challenge — those dozens of collegiate and free agent kickers vying for one of 32 NFL jobs had a big head start — but he believed Aubrey had the tools. They planned to meet three or four times each week, Aubrey hustling from Arlington to Frisco — a trip of about 40 miles — after work at GM Financial.

Despite the long odds, it didn’t take Aubrey long to impress Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott, Egan’s teammate at Mississippi State.

A few months after Aubrey began working with Egan, Prescott stopped by a workout with college and free-agent kickers. One made a bet with Prescott that he could make at least eight of 10 kicks running onto the field from the sideline as he would in a game, Prescott picking the distance and the positioning of the ball on the hashes.

Aubrey watched the kicker come up short. Then he heard his name called. He got the same offer.

He made nine.

Aubrey, who had broken his ring finger during his final year of professional soccer, put on a silicone wedding band at the altar. With the $200 he won from Prescott, he decided it was time to get an actual ring.

“And now they’re teammates,” Jenn says, laughing.


A shot at the pros, however, was still a long way off. During the height of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 when facilities were closed, kicking on a field with goalposts wasn’t an option. Instead, Aubrey met Egan at a local park, his kicks leaving marks on a light pole.

“We call it the ‘Field of Dreams,’” Egan says.

Jenn would come by the sessions after work, bringing her lacrosse stick with its extra-wide goalkeeper’s head to catch the balls and keep them from scuffing on the ground. She also taught Egan how to toss a lacrosse ball, much to the delight of Egan’s dog, Lucky.

Aubrey devoted himself to kicking practice, even though the return on his investment was far from guaranteed. Both Aubrey and Egan credit Jenn for her support despite Aubrey “pretty much being a ghost in the house for a year-and-a-half,” he admits, and taking all their vacation time to attend kicking showcases.

After about 18 months, Egan and Aubrey decided it was time to perform in front of pro scouts. Aubrey impressed at combine-like events, but he was told he needed game film. He had already used up his four years of NCAA eligibility, so college football wasn’t an option. Neither was the Canadian Football League. Returning north of the border to take a major pay cut and again leave his family held no appeal.

“I felt like I was slamming my head into a brick wall” Aubrey says, “trying to make that brick wall blow up.”

But almost three years after he started working with Egan, the rebirth of the USFL as a professional spring football league presented the break Aubrey needed. Through previous kicking events, he had built a good relationship with former Notre Dame and NFL kicker John Carney ’87, who happened to be hosting the league’s pre-draft showcase for specialists. Carney made sure Aubrey was invited.

“I don’t think I missed on the day,” Aubrey remembers, “and my kickoffs were really good. The player personnel director even took a liking to my story.”

Aubrey earned a spot in the player pool from which the eight USFL teams would draft to fill their rosters. Still, watching the live selections on Twitter from his home office, he had a feeling he wouldn’t be picked. Teams took players recently cut from the NFL or straight out of college. When it was time for the Birmingham Stallions to finish off the round designated for selecting kickers, Jenn looked over and saw the sadness etched on her husband’s face.

Unknown to them at the time, Stallions head coach Skip Holtz ’87 — worried about having the last pick — had given former Irish teammate Carney a call. Carney included Aubrey on his shortlist of recommendations, noting that the least-experienced option might be the best of the bunch. Holtz listened.

Jenn remembers Aubrey jumping to his feet and screaming, “They picked me!”

“He was the happiest I’ve ever seen him,” she says.


Not two months later, Aubrey would hit the opening kickoff of the USFL season. He soon established himself as one of the league’s best kickers while helping the Stallions to two straight league titles, earning himself a shot at the Cowboys’ training camp. (Aubrey was surprised when Prescott, whom he later learned had watched some of his USFL games with Egan, recognized him right away.)

Eventually, Bobby Clark heard about his former penalty-kicking ace’s exploits. Even at Notre Dame, Clark had never become a big fan of American football. For the first time in his life, he found himself scrolling through the TV guide for Cowboys games while visiting his children in the U.S. or catching up on highlights back home in Scotland.

But that first career kickoff at Birmingham’s Protective Stadium was the turning point of Aubrey’s professional life. Having placed the ball on the tee and taken his steps back, Aubrey looked at the crowd of about 17,500 people, by far the biggest he had played in front of. To his left and right, he glanced at teammates ready to race downfield and make a tackle.

“I took a moment right then and there to appreciate all the hard work I’ve put in,” he says.

Seconds later, it was time to lock in, to “make sure I didn’t play scared and that I was ready for the opportunity when it came. Never looked back since that.”

Greg McKenna is a reporter and columnist whose work has appeared in The Dallas Morning News, The Boston Globe, the Tampa Bay Times and the South Bend Tribune.