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October 14, 2013At the start of the 2013 fall practies, Texas A&M kicker Josh Lambo was best known as the guy who had once been a first round draft pick of Major League Soccer's FC Dallas. Wide receiver Travis Labhart, in spite of lettering twice, was probably best known as being a practice player against the A&M women's basketball team.
Neither had a scholarship.
After the Aggies' 41-38 win against Ole Miss Saturday, they're now both football heroes -- an idea neither seemed a little embarrassed by after the game.
"It was great not to hit the game winning field goal, but to help my teammates out," Lambo said. "They're the guys who are out there getting beat up and getting knocked down and tackling people and making big plays and the fact that I got to do anything to help that out was the best part about it."
After starting off the season as Taylor Bertolet's backup, Lambo took over the job after Bertolet missed a field goal and consecutive extra points against SMU. Since then he's hit three of his four field goal attempts and got a chance to live out a dream -- one that didn't quite end the way he planned.
"I always said that, if I hit a game winning field goal, I'd do the (soccer goal) slide," the former goalie said. "Unfortunately, I got a big old nasty gash doing it and I need to get that treated."
In spite of his lack of experience in big situations, Lambo said he was perfectly calm before nailing the 33-yard game-winning field goal.
"Surprisingly, I wasn't that nervous," he said. "It was all confidence. I knew the snap would be great from Jake Matthews, I knew (punter Drew) Kaser would have a great hold and I knew that I was going to kick it right down the middle."
With eight catches for 97 yards -- both career highs -- the 5 foot, 9 inch, 182-pound Labhart also found himself in unfamiliar territory. After the game, he wasn't quite sure how he became quarterback Johnny Manziel's primary target for several big plays, including a 35-yard reception to set up the Aggies' first touchdown.
"I don't really know, to be honest. We were just meshing," he said. "It just comes from having confidence in me. Back when he was a scout team player, we were on the scout team together and it was fun because we always found each other. It just happened to be that we carried out to a real game."
Labhart said he was every bit as confident that A&M would rally to win as Lambo was that he would make the winning kick.
"We were sitting over there with Johnny on the bench and we just started laughing when they scored (to lead 38-31). Not that they aren't a good team, but because we knew we'd have to score again," he said. "It was going to be a shootout. I don't think we were ever worried. When we go out, we have to score, and we can't let their defense dictate how we play."
Even though he saw spot duty in the past, the undersized and not overly fast -- but reliable and durable -- Labhart's 11 catches and one touchdown this season are the only receptions of his career.
"It's been a long, long journey," he said. "I think I had my first two catches back in the Sam Houston game and I scored my first touchdown and the coaches gave me a hard time, saying, 'Act like you've been in the end zone before.' I was like, 'I haven't in five years.'"
As strange it was for a former practice basket practice opponent for the women's team to outshine five-star talent on the other side of the field, Lambo's journey from professional soccer player to an instant legend as a college place kicker may be even more bizarre. It's something the 22-year-old sophomore is aware of.
"I'd never put on football pads before I got to Texas A&M. This whole process was really surreal," he said. "I was really appreciative of the coaching staff giving me a chance to go out and prove my worth and show what I can do. Unfortunately, the circumstances came where I was going in and I knew if it came, I'd take it."
Head coach Kevin Sumlin said that, while he was happy for all of his players after the win, he was especially happy for his kicker.
"I think he's a great example for everyone on our team ... here's a guy that, a year ago, nobody knows who he was," Sumlin said. "He's also an example for our program that, if you keep at it and do things the right way, the best players are going to play."
While reporters around the country were scrambling to figure out exactly who Josh Lambo and Travis Labhart were in the early hours of Sunday morning, both young men were discussed how their faith had helped them endure some strange turns on the road to sudden fame.
"Praise God, I've been able to utilize my opportunity," Lambo said. "I know that I'm here for purposes other than football. Every day, whether it's academics, on the football field or in the weight room, I'm going to be the best me that I can be. And, if I got the chance, I'd take it; if not, I'd be the best backup in the country."
Labhart -- who finally received a scholarship right before the season began -- struck a similarly modest tone.
"I'm sure that when Lambo was in here, he gave nothing but praise to God," he said. "It's been such a blessing to have Lambo on the team because he's two lockers over from me and I absolutely love him. It's been a great ride for both of us."
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