Brandon Aubrey: MLS Draftee to NFL Kicker



by FAIZAN CHAUDHARY

Brandon Aubrey: MLS Draftee to NFL Kicker
© Richard Rodriguez/GettyImages

FRISCO, Texas – Hailing from Plano, Texas, Brandon Aubrey's childhood dreams diverged from the typical Lone Star State aspirations of becoming a Dallas Cowboys star like Tony Romo, Jason Witten, or DeMarcus Ware. Aubrey harbored a unique ambition; he yearned to emulate Thierry Henry, the illustrious Arsenal icon of 1999-2007, and a World Cup champion with France in 1998.

"It was Henry's unmatched skill that captivated me," Aubrey recounts in an exclusive interview with ESPN. "He could execute feats on the field that no one else could."

Soccer Dreams Take Root

Aubrey's aspirations initially leaned more towards a World Cup title than a Super Bowl ring. His early soccer endeavors led him to the Dallas Texans, the same youth club that fostered Clint Dempsey, the U.S. Men's National Team luminary and all-time top scorer. Aubrey's collegiate soccer journey commenced at Notre Dame, culminating in a national championship during his freshman year. When he bid adieu to South Bend, Indiana, he held the prestigious title of first-team All-ACC and Notre Dame's Most Valuable Player.

In 2017, Aubrey embarked on his professional soccer odyssey after being selected as the 21st overall pick by Toronto FC in the MLS Draft. Yet, his tenure in the Major League Soccer lasted merely two seasons. Just as one dream concluded, another beckoned when, during an NFL game, his wife, Jenn, watched a kicker in action and astutely remarked, "You could do that."

Thus commenced a remarkable journey that saw Aubrey practicing his kicks in local parks during the pandemic, followed by two seasons with the USFL's Birmingham Stallions, culminating in his signing with the Dallas Cowboys last July. Remarkably, in just two games, Aubrey has successfully converted seven field goals out of seven attempts and five of six extra points. His 26 points in the first two games of his NFL career rank him as the highest-scoring kicker in the league, a remarkable feat that places him fifth in NFL history for points scored in the initial two games of a career.

"It's a promising start, something to build upon," Aubrey reflects. "My focus remains on taking it one game at a time and earning the next opportunity, as kickers often play week by week. Now that I've earned Week 3, I aim to secure Week 4."

Aubrey's profound understanding of the unpredictability inherent in professional sports stems from his earlier experiences. His stint with Toronto FC never elevated him to the first team, which, incidentally, clinched the 2017 MLS Cup during his rookie season, boasting luminaries like Sebastian Giovinco, Jozy Altidore, and Michael Bradley. Positioned as a center-back, Aubrey played 21 matches for Toronto FC II, the organization's reserve squad in the United Soccer League (USL).

Jason Bent, his manager at the time and now with the LA Galaxy, acknowledges Aubrey's composure on the field. "Brandon was adept with the ball, exuding confidence," Bent recalls. "While mobility wasn't his forte, his aerial prowess and ability to head the ball were commendable. In hindsight, we could have leveraged his striking ability to exploit defensive vulnerabilities."

Professional soccer's peculiar dynamics led to Aubrey's release after a single season, despite his first-round draft status. Aubrey laments the missed opportunity, saying, "When you enter a room as a first-round draft pick, expectations run high. You've toiled tirelessly to reach that point, nurturing dreams of becoming a pivotal player for the club. Regrettably, I fell short of the lofty expectations I'd set for myself. In retrospect, the competition was formidable, but I wished to make more of the opportunity afforded to me."

In 2018, Aubrey signed with the Philadelphia Union and played for the Bethlehem Steel in the USL. However, when the franchise disbanded after the season, and the Union opted for a pure academy team, Aubrey faced a pivotal decision. The USL beckoned with a few opportunities, but as a newlywed earning a meager $35,000 per year, he opted for stability and decided to step away.

"I questioned whether it was worth distancing myself from my wife and settling for meager earnings, when I could stay by her side and earn twice as much as a software engineer," Aubrey contemplates.

Aubrey ventured into the corporate world, securing a job as a software engineer with GM Financial, conveniently situated just 15 minutes from the Cowboys' home turf at AT&T Stadium. Though content with his career, it was a casual comment from his wife that reignited his passion.

"Logically, if I could kick a soccer ball, I should be able to kick a football with some practice," Aubrey mused.

Subsequently, Aubrey resumed kicking, revisiting a skill he had honed since his days on the Schimelpfenig Middle School soccer team in Plano. After a couple of years of intensive training under private coaches, he earned another draft selection, this time in the 32nd round of the USFL draft by the Birmingham Stallions. In his debut season, he boasted an impressive record of 18 out of 22 successful field goal attempts and 22 out of 24 PATs. Last spring, he further solidified his prowess by converting 14 out of 15 field goals and successfully executing all 35 extra-point attempts, contributing to Birmingham's consecutive USFL championship victories.

Following Brett Maher's four missed extra points during the Cowboys' playoff triumph over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in January, the team knew they required a new kicker for the 2023 season. While they had their sights set on Jake Moody and Chad Ryland, both of whom were drafted earlier than the Cowboys preferred, they showed no interest in acquiring a veteran through free agency. In June, John Fassel, the special teams coach, embarked on a reconnaissance mission to Birmingham, Alabama, to assess Aubrey in person. Fassel took care not to don any Cowboys attire during his visit.

"I may have surreptitiously ventured onto the field," Fassel candidly admits during a press conference. "I wanted to get a closer feel for the game—its sights and sounds." Colby Wadman, the Stallions punter who previously played for the Denver Broncos, recognized Fassel, and this revelation eventually reached Aubrey.

"I tried to remain inconspicuous," Fassel chuckles, "but even a tall, lanky guy like me tends to stand out."

Aubrey adds, "I think they even flashed him on the Jumbotron at one point."

Aubrey remained uncertain whether Fassel's presence primarily concerned him or Philadelphia's Luis Aguilar. Nonetheless, he seized the opportunity to meet with Fassel after the game. Less than a month later, Aubrey inked a three-year contract with the Cowboys, a deal that notably lacked even a minimal signing bonus.

"When I initially embarked on this journey, I was open to any team willing to offer me the chance to play football professionally," Aubrey reflects. "However, when the opportunity with the Cowboys materialized, alongside a few other prospects, we had to seize this hometown opportunity."

On July 24, Aubrey boarded a plane bound for Oxnard, California. By August 7, the Cowboys had released Tristan Vizcaino, effectively anointing Aubrey as the starting kicker before his maiden appearance in a regular-season game.

In his debut preseason outing, Aubrey missed an extra point, followed by a 59-yard field goal attempt miss in his third preseason appearance. However, he concluded the first half with a successful 59-yarder. When the regular season commenced on a rainy night at MetLife Stadium, he faltered with his first extra point against the New York Giants but redeemed himself by converting both of his field goal attempts. In the subsequent game against the Jets, he delivered a flawless performance. Impressively, all 16 of his kickoffs in two games resulted in touchbacks.

John Fassel acknowledges Aubrey as a potent asset, stating, "He is a weapon." Although Aubrey's kicking experience remains somewhat limited, he exhibits a rapid learning curve, offering valuable insights into the nuances of each kick.

"While there's still much ground to cover," Fassel remarks, "it's a long-term endeavor. If Aubrey's record had been four out of seven instead of seven out of seven, I'd still emphasize that we possess a young kicker with abundant talent. There's room for refinement."

Jason Bent, Aubrey's former coach at Toronto, recently tuned in to a Cowboys game in Los Angeles and came across several stories about Aubrey's remarkable journey. He rejoiced at his former center-back's newfound success with America's team.

"I take immense pride in Brandon's remarkable journey," Bent shares. "His story serves as a testament that when one door closes, another can swing wide open. It's truly an inspiring narrative."

As Aubrey and his wife made their way home from the Cowboys' game against the Jets, retracing the route he used to take to GM Financial, they shared a moment of reflection.

"We were sitting there, and it hit me," Aubrey recounts. "I thought, 'I'm really a Dallas Cowboy now.' We paused to let that sink in."

Brandon Aubrey's extraordinary voyage from Toronto FC to the NFL stands as a testament to determination, resilience, and the boundless possibilities that arise when one dares to chase their dreams.