TAMPA — As usual, University of South Florida junior Marvin Kloss is kicking off with authority, keeping the Bulls’ special teams in good position. But now he’s booming field goals from the outer reaches, becoming one of USF’s primary weapons.
He’s performing — and why haven’t some hip USF fans made this a catch-phrase — like a Kloss?
“Things are going well,” he said.
With USF’s offense still searching for its identity, Kloss again should be an important factor today as the Bulls (1-4, 1-0) travel to Connecticut (0-4) in search of their second straight American Athletic Conference victory.
Who knew Kloss would fit so nicely? It seemed like a daunting task, replacing Maikon Bonani, the popular and ultra-dependable all-time leading scorer for the Bulls.
Kloss’ first field-goal attempt was a 43-yarder on Aug. 31 against McNeese State at Raymond James Stadium. The adrenaline was pumping. He hit it well.
“Would’ve been good from 60,” Kloss said.
Kloss, deflated, came to the sideline. He noticed USF coach Willie Taggart.
“Nonchalant, really no reaction,” Kloss said. “He said he believed in me. That’s all I needed to hear.”
Ever since, Kloss has a streak of seven consecutive made field goals. Last weekend, he was 4-for-4 in a 26-20 victory against Cincinnati, including a 52-yarder, the third-longest conversion in school history. For that, he was named AAC special teams player of the week.
Already, he has successful field goal attempts of 40, 49, 50 and 52 yards.
“He’s a valuable guy,” USF junior receiver Andre Davis said.
Kloss spent his first two seasons on kickoffs, where he distinguished himself by producing 46 touchbacks in 126 kicks, including 37 last season.
“When I got the job, I watched the film and I was so excited about what we could have with Marvin,’’ Taggart said. “I’m not even talking about the field goals. I tell him, ‘Marvin, I need you to knock that ball out of the end zone on kickoffs, so we don’t have to cover anybody.’ Field position is so important and he gives that to us.
“If you come to me and I give (an opportunity) to you, you’ve got to make it work. When we had a long field-goal attempt this season, Marvin looked at me and said, ‘Coach, I’ve got this.’ I’m like, ‘OK, let’s go.’ I respect that.”
It’s a word football players sometimes use reluctantly around place-kickers.
But Kloss has that, too.
He’s a weight-room junkie with a maximum bench press of 405 pounds. He’s a former safety who doesn’t hesitate to make tackles. He’s a hard worker, an encourager who always has the team’s best interests in mind.
“It can be tough being a kicker,” said Kloss, a Naples Barron Collier High graduate who had interest from Purdue, Kansas, Marshall, Florida International and Florida Atlantic before choosing USF. “If you fail, you might be looking at losing your job or becoming the laughingstock of that team.
“You’re always in a glass bubble and everyone’s expecting you to make a kick. People don’t realize how important everyone in the operation is and I’m lucky to have a great snapper (David Burdetsky) and holder (Mattias Ciabatti). But you’re the one in the spotlight. You must have mental toughness.”
Kloss learned toughness from his father, Thomas, who played professional soccer for Frankfurt in the German Bundislega. The father’s career was cut short at age 25 by a torn Achilles injury. He was on track, perhaps, to play on Germany’s World Cup team. Some of his friends were on the 1992 championship squad.
But the father didn’t look back. He taught his son to make the most of opportunities. You never know when a sports career might end.
When Kloss’ father had a business opportunity, the family moved to Florida. Kloss was 7. Upon entering the first grade, he didn’t speak a word of English.
“They had (non-English speaking classes), but they were mostly Spanish-speaking kids, so it was rough,” said Kloss, who tries to visit his grandparents in Germany each year. “I was the only German. So, even when they were speaking among themselves, no one could communicate with me. It got better.”
Kloss originally was a soccer player, but his father quickly noticed the popularity of football and steered his son that way.
“Even though my father didn’t grow up with American football, he has helped me a lot,” Kloss said. “He got a lot of pressure from his dad, but he’s kind of the opposite with me. In high school, I knew he was around, but he was in the distance somewhere, either in his car or the stands. He didn’t want to be a distraction.
“He’ll give me a stern talking-to when that’s needed, but he’s very encouraging. He knows the physical training is important, but so is the mental part. I know he’s behind me 100 percent.”
That’s true of USF football teammates, too. They were accustomed to Bonani’s consistency. Kloss has maintained that standard.
“Marvin has a quality you’d want in any kicker,” Taggart said. “When he lines up, you have great confidence that it’s going through the uprights.”