WINSTON-SALEM — No kick is automatic, especially one with a game on the line. But when Nick Sciba is involved, it’s as close to a sure thing as possible.
The Wake Forest junior holds the NCAA record for consecutive made field goals with 34 straight, he’s never missed an extra point, and his 90.1% career accuracy is the best in FBS history.
So when Sciba lined up a potential game-winning 29-yard attempt in the final seconds of Saturday’s game against Louisville, there was no doubt in the minds of his teammates that he was going to make it.
“It’s just one of those things that’s always working, that car that always starts, that thing in your house that always works,” quarterback Sam Hartman said. “That whole notion is Nick Sciba. He’s the generator of this team.”
Hartman and the 19th-ranked Deacons have become so accustomed to Sciba’s dependability that the quarterback said he doesn’t even watch his kicks anymore. He just assumes that they’re going to be good, as was the case Saturday with the decisive field goal — on Sciba’s 22nd birthday — that gave Wake a 37-34 win and a 5-0 start (3-0 in the ACC).
Sciba has made all 10 of his attempts this season and has hit 22 in a row dating back to last year, the longest active streak in the nation. He is 67 of 74 for his career.
“He’s a guy that’s pretty automatic,” Hartman said.
But that hasn’t always been the case.
In fact, his confidence was severely shaken during his first few months with the Deacons when he struggled to adjust after arriving as an early enrolling freshman for spring practice in 2018. He said he was so caught up with how his performance compared to the other kickers battling for the starting job that he “had to take a step back and realize what I was here doing and what I was doing this for.
“I honestly felt I was being kind of selfish and I was playing for myself.”
It’s an attitude Sciba credited his faith for changing. But not before he was involved in a memorable incident that played out on national television in just his fourth game after winning Wake’s placekicking job.
Sciba was nowhere to be found when his team lined up for a 38-yard field goal during the first quarter against Notre Dame. He was still standing on the sideline, oblivious to the situation, after thinking that Hartman had run for a first down on the previous play.
He eventually sprinted onto the field just in time to take a deep breath and attempt the kick, but he clanked it off the left upright for a miss.
To make matters worse, the video of holder Dom Maggio looking back with surprise when the kicker wasn’t there followed by Sciba’s mad dash from the sideline went viral — including mention on ESPN SportsCenter’s “Not Top 10” segment.
As embarrassing as the situation was, it taught Sciba a lesson he’s never forgotten.
“I’m always ready,” he said.
Because of that readiness and his aforementioned faith, Sciba said he doesn’t feel pressure when he prepares himself for a kick.
Even one as important as the game-winner against Louisville on Saturday.
“I’ll be honest, I wasn’t really nervous,” he said. “I don’t think about make or miss it. I made it, luckily. But if I miss it, one kick doesn’t define who I am. It doesn’t define the kicker that I am. … It took me a little bit to realize that, but now I have it realized and life is easier.”
And not just for him.
Sciba’s calm demeanor and accurate leg have also given coach Dave Clawson a peace of mind few of his colleagues around the ACC or the country enjoy — although he did admit to having a moment of uneasiness before Saturday’s winning kick thanks to a similar situation in a game two nights earlier.
“I watched the Miami game the other night and that went through my head a little bit,” Clawson said of the Hurricanes’ loss to Virginia, which was decided by a missed field goal on the final play. “But we obviously trust Nick.
“It’s certainly nice to have somebody that reliable, that dependable that you can say the overwhelming percentages are that he’s going to hit this kick.”
His latest kick was among his most special. Not only did it win the game, but it also made for an unforgettable birthday celebration when his teammates carried him off the field on their shoulders, then serenaded him with a chorus of “Happy Birthday” in the locker room.
“I’m not going to lie, that almost made me cry,” said Sciba, who described himself as a softy. “That was awesome. I wasn’t expecting it. It made me feel good on the inside and happy to be where I’m at.”