Now I Want to Kick
In a house with a family of four sitting in Vacaville, California is a room filled with sports memorabilia. An abundance of soccer medals spanning from club to high school, old jerseys and San Francisco Giants fan gear fills Brandon Taltons childhood bedroom.
Brandon grew up always being outside. “He was never the kid that liked to sit and just play video games,” Drew Talton, Brandon’s dad, said. You wouldn’t catch Brandon sitting and watching TV or Netflix, even to this day. It comes as a shock to Drew if Brandon talks to him about a show or movie.
So Brandon filled his time with sports: soccer, basketball, track, golf, mountain biking and football. “He gets bored, easy,” Drew said when explaining how Brandon kept switching sports. He did high jump and long jump in track and played basketball just for fun, even though he was pretty decent at it. There was a mountain bike club at his high school, Vacaville High School, and Brandon participated in that his freshman year where he got to compete in the state championship.
The sport that he stuck with the most was soccer. “I think a lot of that was because I’ve been a coach for over 30 years in soccer,” Drew said. “And so both my kids were very heavily involved in that sport.” Drew and his wife, Christine, would take turns splitting up going to each of the kids games. Brandons older sister, Nicole, was also coached by her dad. Drew was able to make the schedules so he wouldn’t miss out on any of their games.
Brandon played club soccer with Cal Rush and Vacaville United Soccer Club. He played midfield or forward but also got time as center back in high school. As a midfielder, he had good ball handling skills and could target his passes to the strikers. Beautiful goals were scored by Brandon ever since he started playing competitively at seven years old. One of Brandons soccer games that really stood out to Drew was when Vacaville played their rival, Wood High School.
“We were down a goal and there was maybe less than a minute left in the game,” Drew said. “We had a free kick at about midfield so they loaded the box hoping to get a goal in there. Brandon was able to drill it like a rocket from all the way from midfield in there and it bounced off one of our guys and went in the goal and tied the game. So it saved them from losing against the rival.”
Brandon was named All League in high school and won a number of tournaments with his club teams.
Drew saw that Coach Roy and Coach Dave Robertson were two people that really helped Brandon excel in soccer and were good mentors. Drew humorously added, “I had him for a lot of the years, so I’m hoping that maybe I would be [a mentor] too.”
Brandon’s family really thought that he was going to go to college for soccer. But one thing that Drew saw Brandon struggle with was putting the time and effort into doing something in order to be great at it.
“I would bribe him,” Drew said. “I would say, ‘hey, I’ll give you this if you get 100 juggles, you know without dropping it, I’ll give you 100 bucks.’ And he looked at me kinda ‘Yeah, whatever.’ And he didn’t want to do it. But then one day, I think I just challenged him enough that he went out in the backyard one day, and he started to do it. And then it became his own challenge, because he’s very competitive. And so then that became a competition for himself, that ‘I don’t need you to give me money or anything.’”
It was sort of a mental challenge for Brandon to keep going higher and getting better with the small skills. He worked hard, but this competition his dad got him to do made him work even harder. Brandon is not just a competitive person, but also passionate and loyal. He is the type of person that if you hurt someone he loves, he is upset just as much as that person is. His care for the people who are close to him is huge. Brandons sense of humor is right up there with his dad’s so they go back and forth with each other, but Brandon brings a sort of sass with it too. The same sass he gave his dad when he didn’t want to take his bribe for juggles, but did it anyway.
After playing soccer from a young age all the way up until his junior year of high school, Brandon wanted to do something different. Different but at the same time very similar. Another sport, obviously, where he could still kick a ball and be part of a team.
Brandon had mentioned he wanted to try kicking for the football team the summer before his sophomore year.
“The irony is that I was actually the varsity coach for the girls [soccer] team at the high school,” Drew said. “And so the football coach had mentioned to me that they were looking for a kicker. Never once thinking my own son would be, potentially, the kicker for them.”
Drew got a call from Brandon after school one day, telling him to come to the field and watch him kick. “I saw right away, oh, okay, he can kick.” Drew started to videotape and sent it to the football coach, asking if Brandon could be a good fit for the kicker position. The coach, Mike Popadopolis, said yes and got in touch with the special teams coach, Scott Wingert to get in touch with Brandon.
“The first initial thought when I saw him kicking the ball was he’s going to be our starting kicker,” Coach Wingert said. “Like he’s gonna be the varsity kicker as a sophomore, he needs to come up, he’s got potential.”
Brandon truly had no idea what to do to be a kicker. He saw that you had to put the football on this thing and kick it. Drew didn’t show him how to do it and no one else did until he went to a practice.
“I think the only thing he was doing incorrectly was he had a little more of a run up on the ball than you normally would,” Drew said.
Brandon started going to the JV summer practices, but Coach Wingert brought him up to varsity practices as soon as he saw his skills. Drew learned a lot about high school kicking rules. Kickers can use a rubber block that is two inches or shorter. The block gives the ball a little more height so after it is kicked, it can get up and over the goal post and not be blocked. But Brandon didn’t know what the rubber block was and started kicking right off the ground, which is required in college.
“He was already ahead of the game, because he only learned how to kick the ball off the ground,” Drew said.
In high school, the field goals are a lot wider than other levels of play. A high school field goal post is 23 feet and four inches wide and college and pro is 18.5 feet. The pro field goal post is five feet higher than the college post because of the increased strength of kickers.
Brandons soccer technique really helped when it came to kicking for football, only minor changes were needed. At the Chris Sailer football camp, he learned where to put his left arm, point his head and eyes, plant his foot and how to keep good body posture. He did drills kicking at small targets to improve his accuracy. Luckily, Brandon was able to play soccer and football at the same time because they were different seasons.
“Usually you can get soccer players to translate to kick into football fairly easily,” Coach Wingert said. “With Brandon, it was just a natural transition for him to do that. He caught on really quick and just excelled, you know, at the early stages, things that usually take a long time to develop.”
As Brandon started to train for football, a lot of his soccer and track training helped his leg strength. Soccer focused on core strength and balancing. Football focused on getting stronger with weight training. Those two put together helped Brandon become the ultimate athlete he is today.
In his high school career, Brandons junior and senior year stood out the most. One year he had only missed one field goal and his longest kick was 47-yards. The field goal he missed was a controversial one.
“He goes in there for the game winner and hits it,” Drew said. “Video and everything shows that it went through. But the referees called it and said it was no good. And that was his first game winning opportunity that he did not hit.”
“We put him in a bad spot,” Coach Wingert said. “So it should never come down to him to either win the game or lose the game.”
Brandon learned some lessons from that though. He learned how to have a good mentality, wipe away the bad, and go into the next game with a fresh mind.
“The next game the following week, they played Pittsburgh,” Drew said. “Pittsburgh was a powerhouse football program in the Bay Area. We got within field goal range and the coach put him out there for a 47-yard field goal, which he never hit a field goal that far in a game for them yet. And this is immediately the week after he misses this game winner and the first kick he gets is a 47-yard he drills it.”
Brandon really embraced the role of being on a team. Coach Wingert saw that even though kickers are usually on the side practicing their own thing, he made an appoint to be at every practice, weight training and summer workout. He was a low man on the totem pole being a sophomore on varsity but these actions gained him respect from the team.
His football life started and it was much more intense than soccer was. Practice happened every day, and in summers it was morning and evening. Being a growing boy and doing multiple hours of working out made him hungrier than ever.
“If they’re not practicing, they’re having meetings, if they’re not having meetings, or having team meals, and if they’re not doing that and working out, then they fit school in between,” Drew said. “That’s pretty much been his life for a while.”
The increased amount of practice led to muscle memory. It is good to be able to do things repeatedly, but there is also the risk of overkicking. Special teams coaches and other coaches who understand this realize that quality is better than quantity for the health of a kicker. Aaron Edmonds was another coach who looked out for Brandon’s practicing schedule. Monday and Tuesday were heavy kicking days so that his leg was not fatigued for games on weekends.
Brandon decided to take his senior year off of soccer. The switch to football made Brandon realize he could have a future in the sport, and there were more opportunities to get a scholarship to play. This was a hard decision for him, but with what happened in football, he had to put his full focus on his kicking. But what major thing happened for him to quit the sport he had stuck with his whole life?
The University of Nevada, Reno wanted Brandon. He committed to be a walk-on his senior year.
Brandon started attending camps for his kicking. Not only did he learn from Chris Sailer, Jamie Kohl, Sac State camps, USC, Florida but also a Nevada camp.
“We came to Nevada and met Coach Perry at the time and got an offer from Nevada,” Drew said. “We just signed up for a camp there and didn’t even know anything about anything. He just signed up to come. And he was one of a handful of kickers there. But he was the only kicker at that camp that came out of high school that wasn’t kicking off a block.”
At the camp, the kids were kicking at Mackay Stadium, home of the Nevada Wolf Pack. Brandon was having a rough morning at the camp but got some wise words of advice from his dad half way through. Brandon made connections with the current Nevada kickers at the time, Quinton Conway and Ramiz Ahmed. Quinton and Ramiz helped Brandon stay hyped up throughout the camp.
The special teams coach, Coach Perry, called head coach Jay Norvell over to watch Brandon kick, front and center in front of everyone. He was asked to kick a 45-yard field goal, all pressure on him. Brandon drilled it right down the middle. Brandon was named best at the camp after winning several mini competitions and received an autographed football from Norvell.
But it was at a Sac State camp just four days later where Brandon got his recognition. Brandon wore a red faded 49’rs hat backwards so he was easy to spot. He wore this hat at Nevada also and Coach Perry, who was at the Sac State camp, recognized him. Coach Perry told Brandon he wanted to talk to him and a couple of days after the camp, Brandon asked to go on an unofficial visit to Nevada. The coaches said yes and Brandon and his family spent three hours getting a tour and talking to coaches.
That visit, his kicking skills and passion for football had the coaches wanting him on the team. The coaching staff gave him the offer to be a walk on and Brandon took it. He snagged number 43, Tatlon written out big on the back.
Brandon had also received an offer from Air Force, the first school that actually came to his high school to talk to him. The family went to tour the school but Brandon wasn’t too fond of it and found Nevada to be the best fit.
At Nevada, the amount of practices, meetings and workouts were at the same consistency, but even more of an intensity than high school. But traditions for him always stay the same.
“He gets a specific text from me the night before games,” Drew said.
When Coach Norvell was at Nevada, Drew and the family would participate in the Wolf Pack Walk where families could see their kids before game time. Drew and Christine would both hug Brandon. Current head coach, Coach Wilson, doesn’t have that same tradition so the Talton family adjusted.
“I find him during pregame and I used to try to get my wife down there too so she can steal a hug from our boy,” Drew said. “But my wife has her pregame stuff.”
Brandons mom likes to send Brandon a certain prayer before games to keep him in the right mindset. Christine and Drew notice that Brandon likes to do his own prayer before games too. They see him go to the goal post, take a knee and do a prayer.
The Talton family admires what a caring person Brandon is. During a long and unfortunately lost game against Incarnate Word this season, Brandon walked off the field and thanked all of the fans for staying to watch the whole game.
“I thought it was special to watch him as well as his teammates thank each individual, every fan for staying,” Drew said. “I thought that was huge. I told him how proud I was of him after that, because you don’t know the kind of impact you’re going to have on an individual when you communicate with them as a person. And that could have meant the world to whoever that was. Any one of those people could have walked away with ‘oh my god, Brandon said this, oh my god.’”
Even though Brandon is in college and away from his hometown, his old coaches are always checking in with him.
“He’s like one of my own,” Coach Wingert said. “I love the kid. I feel like Drew and Christine, we just developed that bond over those three years that he was at high school. Super great kid just always wanting to improve, and just a great kid overall.”
Brandon takes the time to visit Vacaville High when he is back in town. Coach Wingert loves it when his high schoolers can hear how Brandon was a walk-on and excelled to earn a scholarship after his first game.
“I talk about BT to the kickers at high school a lot and how they have to have the drive Brandon did to be able to go far,” Coach Edmonds said.
Throughout his college career, Brandon has had multiple crowd roaring performances. His longest field goal at Nevada so far is 56-yards. He has made 64 total field goals at Nevada to this day. He has also been recognized by the Mountain West multiple times:
3x Lou Groza Award Semifinalist (2019–21)
All-Mountain West First Team (2020)
All-Mountain West Second Team (2019)
Mountain West Top 50 Players (2020)
7x Mountain West Special Teams Player of the Week
Coach Edmonds noticed that Brandon tweaked some of the things he used to do in high school for college. His routine changed in college to make it shorter and minimize movements. His mentality also got shorter so it is easy to forget the bad and move on.
Coach Wingert’s favorite college performance of Brandons is when he nailed the game winning kick against Purdue as a freshman. That field goal was the 56-yard one.
With all of Brandon’s accomplishments, talk about going to the NFL just started this season.
“Do I think he could do it?” Drew said. ”I absolutely think he could. And the reason I say that is because he doesn’t have to have the strongest leg and what I mean, is you may have those kickers out there, they hit those 61, 62-yard field goals. But how many times are they hitting those and how consistently?”
Coach Wingert wants to see Brandon in the NFL too, but knows it’s a hard position to come by with only 32 possible openings. Coach Edmonds sees Brandon as a huge benefit to any NFL team because he has background kicking in sea level, cold weather altitude and all of the different Reno and California seasons. Brandon also believes he is ready and wants to try for the big leagues.
“Going into this season he was like, ‘you know, I want to go,”” Drew said. “So that is a goal of his. I know he wants to. I know he believes he thinks he’ll have an opportunity. If he gets it, if someone can trust that he can do what he can do, I think we just have to wait and see what happens.”