He entered the NFL as one of five kickers in Dallas Cowboys' training camp.
A year later, Dan Bailey, the kid who got his start for an eight-man team at Southwest Covenant Schools in Yukon, stands alone.
That's what hitting four game-winning field goals and going more than two months without a miss will do for you.
“A lot of it is being in the right place at the right time where a team needs a kicker,” Bailey said. “It's definitely a tough business. You have to be on top of your game every game, every practice. Hopefully you can get in there and show them what you can do.”
Bailey, an Oklahoma State All-American who won the 2010 Lou Groza Award for college football's best kicker, showed them by making 32 of 37 field-goal attempts.
At one point, he made 26 straight.
“Dan made so many big kicks for us at the end of games last year,” said Dallas coach Jason Garrett. “He won games as time was expiring, in overtime and all that stuff. He's mature beyond his years.”
Bailey's defining moment was the Cowboys' second game at San Francisco. He missed a 21-yard chip shot early, but nailed a 48-yarder to tie as time expired, and won it in overtime.
His kicks also beat Miami and Washington (twice).
“If you don't enjoy that a little bit at this position then you're probably not in the right profession,” Bailey said. “Yeah, there are nerves involved with it. Sometimes there's a little anxiety. To me that's part of it. I enjoy that.
“Sometimes you're going to miss. Just having the opportunity to help your team in that situation is pretty exciting.”
TWO MONTHS WITHOUT A MISS
Bailey went more than two months without a miss. He was six-of-six against Washington, producing all of Dallas' points in an 18-16 win.
“It got to the point our expectations were, we don't have to watch the field goal,” said linebacker Sean Lee. “We know he's going to make it.”
The streak lasted 77 days.
“I wouldn't say it was surprising, but I wouldn't say I was expecting it either,” Bailey said. “It just kind of happened. One kick led to another and I just started kind of stringing them together. I was focused on making the next kick. I was a rookie just trying to keep my job week in and week out.”
Dallas veterans were impressed by their rookie kicker.
“To have a guy you're so confident in, someone you know can knock through a game-winner is huge for our team,” Lee said. “He has a great demeanor. He's a hard worker. It's fun to watch how poised and smooth he is. It's not a big deal. He just goes out and knocks it through.
“My job is to grind every play. His job is to be smooth. That's exactly what he is.”
Quarterback Tony Romo said: “He's just a great kicker. You can tell by the flight of the ball how successful a kicker they can be. He has the perfect flight.”
To consistently have “perfect flight,” Bailey has a routine. He stressed that the method to drilling pressure-filled kicks actually begins during pregame warm-ups.
While teammates stretch an hour before kickoff, Bailey “visualizes” making kicks from various points on the field.
“During a game I've already been out there,” Bailey said. “I already know where my spots are on a kick depending on wind conditions.”
NULLIFIED BY TIMEOUTS
Bailey's 86.5 field-goal percentage ranks near the top of active kickers. The challenge is to maintain an 80-plus percentage year after year.
And there were a few kicks Bailey failed to knock through with the game on the line.
Bailey missed two pivotal kicks late in the season. He actually made both attempts on the first try, but each was nullified because of a timeout.
He made a 49-yard attempt at the end of regulation that would have beaten Arizona. Concerned the play clock would expire, Garrett called timeout. On the second try, Bailey missed. The Cardinals won in overtime.
Against the Giants, Bailey made a tying 47-yarder in the waning seconds, but the Giants called timeout just before the ball was snapped. Jason Pierre-Paul blocked his second try.
Part of his late-season drop off could be traced to Bailey adjusting to a grueling 16-game schedule and handling kickoffs after David Buehler suffered a groin injury early in the season.
This year the Cowboys didn't bring another kicker to camp. Bailey has job security. One of his offseason goals was to strengthen his leg after ranking 23rd in the league with a 36 percent touchback ratio.
“You can always improve,” Bailey said. “There are things I've worked on but last year went pretty well. It was a good year to build off of. Now it's time to move forward.”
As an OSU senior Bailey made 27-of-31 field goals, and started to realize he might have an opportunity to kick in the NFL.
“This is something I've always dreamed about,” Bailey said. “I felt I could hang with some of the guys playing in the NFL. It's definitely a privilege to play at this level. And this is one of those teams you dream about playing for.”
NFL kickers: Career field-goal percentage breakdown
Most NFL place kickers have a career field-goal percentage 80 percent or higher. Here's a look at each kicker's career percentage:
Career FG percentage
Pct. Player, team
89.5 Alex Henery, Philadelphia
86.5 Dan Bailey, Dallas
86.4 Nate Kaeding, San Diego
86.3 Rob Bironas, Tennessee
85.9 Shayne Graham, Houston
85.8 Robbie Gould, Chicago
84.4 Stephen Gostkowski, New England
84.0 Matt Bryant, Atlanta
83.9 Connor Barth, Tampa Bay
83.1 Phil Dawson, Cleveland
82.9 Adam Vinatieri, Indianapolis
82.2 David Akers, San Francisco
82.0 Jay Feely, Arizona
82.0 Dan Carpenter, Miami
81.9 Jason Hanson, Detroit
81.9 John Kasay, New Orleans
81.2 Ryan Succop, Kansas City
80.9 Mike Nugent, Cincinnati
80.9 Rian Lindell, Buffalo
80.9 Lawrence Tynes, N.Y. Giants
79.6 Seb. Janikowki, Oakland
79.5 Shawn Suisham, Pittsburgh
79.0 Nick Folk, N.Y. Jets
78.8 Josh Scobee, Jacksonville
78.4 Matt Prater, Denver
78.8 St. Hauschska, St. Louis
77.4 Mason Crosby, Green Bay
76.7 Billy Cundiff, Washington