FRISCO, Texas -- Not many people are given second acts or second chances in professional sports. As for Dallas Cowboys 28-year-old rookie kicker Brandon Aubrey, he is the thankful recipient of both. The Plano, Texas native spent his college years playing soccer at Notre Dame as a defender where he totaled 15 goals in 76 games. His collegiate career led to a first-round draft selection to Major League Soccer in 2017 after he was chosen by Toronto FC. However, his time ran out a year later in 2018. That failure fuels Aubrey to this day.
For me, my everything, the reason why I'm doing it [playing NFL football] is kind of like a redemption story for the soccer arc [of my career]," Aubrey said after practice Wednesday. "It's for my family as well."
Fast forward four years to 2022, and Aubrey had repurposed his leg for football, which immediately paid dividends. He became the USFL's top kicker for its best team, the Birmingham Stallions, connecting on 14 of his 15 field goals and all 35 of his extra points for the 2023 league champions. That performance made him noteworthy enough to be brought back home to Texas as a Dallas Cowboy where he competed with Tristan Vizcaino all offseason for the right to succeed the departed Brett Maher as the Silver and Blue's next kicker. Vizcaino, who has kicked for four NFL teams, was released on August 7, paving the way for Aubrey.
"This is my third time being a rookie technically," Aubrey said. "An MLS rookie, a USFL rookie, and a rookie here. So I've been through it. I know what it feels like to be a rookie, but I wouldn't say I feel like a rookie here. I've been treated well and with a very veteran unit and bringing me along at a lot quicker pace than I have in most places. The only time I had a different approach was in the MLS, and that didn't work out too well too well for me. For me, I was a little bit scared or nervous there. I didn't really feel like I belonged. So that's something I learned from."
He locked down the kicking job with a decent preseason effort, finishing 2 for 3 on field goals and 8 of 9 on extra points. Two of his three field-goal attempts came Saturday night in the Cowboys' 31-16 home win over the Las Vegas Raiders in their preseason finale, both from 59 yards. He missed the first attempt wide left, but he had the distance. The second time around, he drilled the do-over with ease.
"Yeah, it was great," Aubrey said after the Cowboys preseason finale. "You don't often get a second shot at something like that. It was good, I was able to just realize I put just a little too much on the first one, and then take some off and just hit my normal ball. Hit it nice and pure, and it went through the uprights. It was a good feeling."
Cowboys head coach Mike McCarthy had a Cheshire Cat-like grin from ear to ear on the sidelines after watching Aubrey's second opportunity sail through the uprights with plenty of room to spare.
"The first one just pulled a little bit and, that's why I was so happy, and that's why we did what we did to give him another shot there," McCarthy said after Dallas' preseason finale. "He has shown that he can do it, and you just want to get those a lot of reps. You knew the moment it left his foot, you knew it was good."
Following Aubrey's display in their preseason tune-up, McCarthy's comfortable level is significantly higher than it was at the start of training camp in July.
"Definitely," McCarthy said when asked about his comfort level in Aubrey and if he has seen enough to name him the team's kicker. "I think that's understandable. If I was to be critical, I wish I would have got him some more opportunities in the first two [preseason] games, but that's why it was important to give him a couple cracks from deep [against the Raiders]."
Only six days away from the Cowboys' 2023 regular season opener against the New York Giants, the head coach's confidence has only grown.
"I do have confidence in him [Brandon Aubrey]," Mike McCarthy said on August 28. "That always grows. I've had three kickers [Greg Zuerlein, Brett Maher and Aubrey] since I've been here [since 2020]. I didn't know where we were as far as the yard line and the trust factor since Day 1. That's why taking those two shots [the 59-yard kicks in the preseason finale against the Las Vegas Raiders] was important. Those deep kicks are his strength. I don't worry about his ability. He has clearly passed that test. He is high in that area. He just needs opportunities. I get to watch him work every day, and I have been very impressed by Brandon."
Three days out from "Sunday Night Football" in MetLife Stadium against the G-Men, McCarthy has bestowed perhaps the highest compliment he could give a kicker that he coaches: comparing him to a young Mason Crosby. The now 39-year-old kicker played 16 seasons with the Green Bay Packers from 2007, McCarthy's second season as head coach with the Green Gold, through the 2022 season. Crosby is the Packers all-time leading scorer (1,918), all-time leader in made field goals (395), and all-time leader in extra points made (733). Crosby's 395 career made field goals and 753 extra points made are also the most in the NFL since his debut in 2007.
"The first time I stood behind him and felt the ball come off his foot, I knew he was going to be ok," McCarthy said on Thursday. "The talent is there, he reminds me of a young Mason Crosby. Mason came into the league, and I hope he [Brandon Aubrey] has the same start to his career as Mason did. He kicked off a walk-off field goal to win a game [16-13 against the Philadelphia Eagles after a 42-yard make with two seconds left]... I feel good about him. He has an arsenal of kicks, which is important. I think that itself shows an ability to control the football. I have been very pleased with him."
Aubrey agreed with McCarthy that the opportunities this month when the games don't count were critical to having him in the right frame of mind entering his first NFL season.
"Yeah, it's massive," Aubrey said of the live game reps. "You're going to make mistakes. No one can be perfect. So it's great to be able to have on the same day, an opportunity to go out there and correct it, and kicking PATs in a bunch of these games."
Following the chance to correct his deep miss with a 59-yard make, the normally stoic kicker allowed himself to smell the roses that come with earning one of the NFL's 32 kicker jobs.
"Yeah, a little bit," Aubrey said when asked if thought to himself in the moment that he was going to make the team after making his 59-yard try. "But, you try to get that thought out of your mind immediately, have a couple of minutes there to enjoy the moment, but move on and make sure I'm ready for something else that should have come up, another opportunity to kick."
His mental approach to kicking is like something out of a "Men In Black" movie as he attempts to achieve a completely blank mental state after experiencing the high's or low's of making or missing a kick.
"Yeah, I try to completely wipe my mind," Aubrey said when asked how he reacts before and after a kick. "I have a process where I'm on the field. I try to stay even. Don't want to have too little pressure on myself. Don't want to have too much pressure on myself."
Now, Aubrey is playing with house money entering his third shot in professional sports in his first NFL kicking opportunity on a contending Dallas Cowboys team that has won 12 games in each of the last two seasons.
"Just stick with it yourself," Aubrey said when asked what he has learned from his winding career journey. "Every end is the start of a new beginning. So for me, this is my third career, and so just start looking forward to it and just living by myself. That got me here."
His practice routine that got him to his current position as the Cowboys kicker, kicking in front of the entire team and coaching staff during practice in training camp, has shifted in advance of his NFL regular season debut.
"Honestly a little less kicking than it was in camp now that we've got the competition worked out and it's my job," Aubrey said. "So there's a little fewer eyes on me. We're able to sneak away into the indoor here and get our work on our own. So, it's nice to get to workshop a few things that I kind of put off throughout camp where you have the eyes on you, and you don't have a chance to go out there and make a mistake in that."
Just like his approach to being a rookie, Aubrey's mindset on making his NFL debut under the primetime lights of "Sunday Night Football" on the road against the New York Giants is the same as a preseason game: it's all football.
"It's all the same," Aubrey said. "It's a game, go out there and play it, go, show, show the world what you're about."