By David Coulson
College Sports Journal
READING, PA. — Erik Rockhold is one of those unforgettable personalities that make following football at any level extra fun.
Of course, one of the things that makes this Appalachian State alumnus a little more interesting is the fact he is a place kicker.
Some of my favorite people on any football team are kickers and punters, if for no other reasons than that they have the time to talk to strangers at practice and they most usually dance to their own music — if you get my drift.
Rockhold has used a strong, right leg and his unique, engaging personality to become Mr. Congeniality at every stop of his college and professional career.
For me, all it took was to tell Rockhold that I had grown up about three hours a way from his hometown of Redwood City, CA. and it was like I was a long-lost friend.
Erik Rockhold kicking for a USA national team
There was never a dull moment at Appalachian State football practices in those days (1999 through 2003) as I was constantly entertained by Rockhold and his best friend on the Mountaineer team, All-American punter and Rockhold’s personal place-holder Nathan McKinney.
This writer was pleasantly surprised to find “Rocky”, as his many friends like to call him, still alive professionally and kicking for the Reading Express indoor football team when I moved to Pennsylvania in 2007.
We reestablished our friendship and stayed in touch through social media, occasional trips to watch the Express play in person and even an occasional, televised game on one of the local Fox Sports affliates.
So when I found out that Rockhold was playing his final home game a couple of Saturdays back after seven years with the Reading Express, I knew that my family and I had to make the trip to help send Rocky out in the proper style.
Rockhold had been largely injury-free through nearly a decade of professional kicking, but a partial tear of the patella tendon at mid-season and some additional knee ailments and surgery let the 31-year-old placement specialist realize that the clock was ticking on his career.
As we made the 90-minute drive to Reading, a number of memories flooded my mind.
There was the time that an Ellis Johnson-coached Citadel squad held a 6-5 lead (yes, you read that score correctly) in the fourth quarter of a 2001 game against ASU at Johnson-Haygood Stadium in Charleston, S.C.
The Mountaineers got into position for a go-ahead, 26-yard field goal, but Rockhold did something he rarely did during his Appalachian State career — he missed a kick.
But Rockhold’s teammate Weslan Hunter gave him a chance for redemption late in the contest with an interception and he won the game, 8-6, with a clutch, 37-yard field goal.
“If he had missed again, our kicker might not have made it back to Boone alive,” ASU coach Jerry Moore said after the game, the 100th win in Moore’s Mountaineer career.
Rockhold had another game-winning field goal in 2003 against Morehead State, booming a pressure-packed 31-yarder through the uprights with 18 seconds left to pull out a 24-21 win against the Pioneer Football League opponent.
Already 0-2 after two disappointing, road losses to Hawaii and Eastern Kentucky, the Mountaineers were on the verge of losing again before a Corey Lynch interception at the MSU 10 and quarterback Richie Williams’ 73-yard run on the next play set up Rockhold’s winning kick and saved ASU’s season.
I couldn’t help but remember when Rockhold had some minor, out-patient surgery a few days before another 2003 game at Elon. There were complications and Rockhold had to be rushed back to the hospital due to some bleeding that could have potentially been lethal.
But the situation was corrected and Rockhold was on hand that Saturday to drill three extra points in the second quarter and field goals of 45 and 43 yards in the second half — after Coach Moore finally was convinced that this gutsy, little kicker could actually play — as the Mountaineers beat Elon, 34-12.
I also couldn’t help but think of the many hijinks that Rockhold and McKinney shared.
There was the time in 2003 when I was interviewing Rocky for a feature story I was writing on McKinney. Rockhold shared a story about one practice when McKinney threw a pass at one of the other special teams players, hit the teammate in the head inadvertently and knocked the player out with a concussion.
A few minutes later, a sports information director asked me if I could leave that story out of my article. Not everything that Rockhold and McKinney did during their days at Appalachian State — as funny as it might have been — was seen as press-worthy.
On arriving at the Sovereign Center, where the Express has played its home games for the past seven years, we noticed a Fathead wall poster of Rockhold in the lobby, with fans being invited to sign a cutout of the poster with best wished for the popular kicker.
As we looked a little closer, we met the Rockhold family, Erik’s twin brother Brent and his parents, Tom and Debbie, who had made the trip up from Shelby, N.C. for his final home game.
“We wouldn’t have missed this game,” said Erik’s proud father.
Rockhold went into the game needing 18 points to reach 1,000 in his Express career and with his team suffering through a two-win season, his personal quest became almost more important for the fans than a win against the Chicago Slaughter in this Indoor Football League game.
The game started poorly for the nervous Rockhold when his opening kickoff sailed out of bounds and a 46-yard field goal with 9:08 left in the first quarter hooked wide left, away from the narrow, 10-foot-wide uprights.
But from there, this effervescent kicker was on his game.
Erik Rockhold drills a field goal out of the
hold of Chris Schubert
Photo by Fred Maurer
After a fumble was returned by the Express for their first touchdown, Rockhold’s PAT was perfect to make it 10-7 with 2:54 left in the first half. He then added a 43-yard field goal to cut Reading deficit to 17-10 before the half ended, but Chicago negated it with a field goal of its own.
The real excitement began in the third period when the Express moved the ball to the one-yard line and then surprised the crowd by calling in Rockhold to line up at tailback.
“We had not practiced it at all,” said Rockhold.
But Rockhold was made aware before the game that a couple of plays had been put in the game plan for him to carry the ball, if the right situation arose.
“Make sure you stay behind your fullback,” coach Mark Steinmeyer told Rockhold, before sending him in.
Rockhold slipped on the handoff as he ran off-guard to the left side on his first carry and was stopped short of the goal line.
He remained at tailback on second down and the offensive line opened up a mammoth-sized hole on the right side as Rockhold received the ball on the next play.
“I just told myself to try not to fumble and to make sure you don’t fall,” said Rockhold. “I could have crawled into the end zone on the second play, if I had needed to, because they opened up such a big hole.”
Rockhold didn’t stop running, however until he was mobbed by fans, leaning over the hockey boards in the back of the end zone as he scored his first-ever touchdown at any level.
“It was quite a thrill,” said Rockhold, as he cut the Express deficit to 27-23 with 8:04 left in the third period.
“I’m glad we worked on handoffs before the game,” said Steinmeyer. “I was gonna call it again if the opportunity came up.”
The fun wasn’t over yet. As Rockhold lined up for the extra point, he received a direct snap and raced for the goal line on a two-point conversion attempt. He appeared to break the plain of the goal line, but the officials were screened on the play and called the attempt no good.
With 10 points on the night, Rockhold got a little closer to his goal on the next Express TD when his extra point bounced off the left upright and through to give Reading a 30-27 lead with 4:46 remaining in the third quarter.
His 29-yard field goal in the first minute of the fourth period extended the Express edge to 33-27 before Rockhold went wide left on a 54-yard field goal attempt with 10:45 remaining as Reading tried to come back from a 34-33 deficit.
Rockhold only had one more chance to add to his point total and hit another PAT with 2:11 to go as Reading pulled to within 46-40 and left the popular kicker three points short of his milestone. But the Express defense couldn’t get the ball back and Chicago ran out the clock for a win.
“I would have loved to have done it in front of my home fans, but at least I have another game left,” Rockhold said. “When I came here, it was just another place to play. After seven years, it’s truly become my home.”
The only memorable thing for the Express in the final game of the season, the next Friday against the Green Bay Blizzard was an extra point and an 18-yard field goal that pushed Rockhold to 1,001 points.
Rockhold drilled another field goal from 34 yards out and added two more conversions to finish with 1,006 points, but the Express gave up a team-record 89 points in an 89-27 loss.
But despite a 2-12 season, Rockhold can look back on a career that included All-American honors at ASU, an NFL tryout with the Buffalo Bills, a chance to play on a national team for the USA on a tour of Europe, stints with teams in the Arena Football League, the United Indoor Football League, the Arena Indoor Football Association, the Arena Indoor Football League and the Indoor Football League.
In his seven years with Reading, Rockhold helped the Express to five playoff berths and a AIFL championship in 2009.
He had received offers from many other arena football teams during his time in Reading, but had stayed loyal to the Express.
“I still feel like I can kick,” Rockhold said. “I wanted to go out on my own terms, which isn’t something that many players get to do.”