By Greg Prouty, Director of Athletics Media Relations
HAMPDEN-SYDNEY, Va. -- For Hampden-Sydney College junior placekicker and punter Rhett Andersen, football is in his blood. His maternal grandfather is Bill Tobin, a long-time NFL scout and executive whose career included general manager positions with the Chicago Bears (1987-92, de facto) and Indianapolis Colts (1994-96) and director of player personnel for the Detroit Lions (2001). An uncle, Duke Tobin, is currently director of player personnel for the Cincinnati Bengals.
Rhett, however, is arguably slight in stature (5-11, 165) for the sport, so at age 11 he decided to try kicking the ball for an opportunity to get on the field.
"I actually tried out for kicker in sixth grade when I played Pop Warner, but I didn't make it," said Rhett. "I started working on it, though, kicking on some wooden uprights that my dad and I built in our backyard."
By his junior year at Poquoson High School, he was splitting time on the varsity, and as a senior, it was his time to shine. He earned all-conference and all-region honors and was named a Daily Press all-star, as well. Nonetheless, it was during his final high school game that he endured his lowest moment on the field—one that would cause him to question his future in the sport he'd grown up loving.
"It's a night that I'll always remember, a night that made me stronger as an athlete and as a person," explained Rhett. "We lost 14-13 and I missed three field goals—two of them very makeable, one of them longer. I didn't miss the extra point, but the snap was botched and I didn't get to kick it. Afterwards, I could feel the heaviness of the team on my back; I questioned if I would get an opportunity to play college football, and if I even wanted to play football anymore."
It was his faith that pulled him through, though. "I look to God for a lot of things in my life because he's number one for me above anything. I prayed a lot as I went through the recruiting process in the spring. CNU reached out and seemed very interested in me. At the time, I thought that was the best decision I could have made. Looking back at it, even though the season didn't work out well there, I think I would do it all over again as far as the way God planned it out for me."
Rhett spent the 2017 season as a member of the Christopher Newport University football team, entering camp that August competing for playing time with the Captains. Unfortunately, Rhett suffered a difficult and untimely period kicking the ball and fell behind two others. Undeterred, he improved his kicking throughout the season and felt he had put himself in position to again compete for the top spot; however, his position coach felt otherwise and made that clear to Rhett.
"I took that as more motivation," said Rhett. "I felt like God had something else planned, so I reached out to a couple of coaches, including Coach Favret, who invited me for a visit. I met with him and he showed me the facilities and campus. At the end of the tour, he said, 'If you want a spot on our team, you've got it.' I'm very grateful for that opportunity."
Rhett made his decision to transfer to H-SC during the Thanksgiving break of that one semester at CNU, and enrolled for classes on the Hill beginning in January 2018.
"I got here in the spring and worked my butt off. The coaches had a lot of confidence in me, which instilled more confidence within myself. Then at camp, I won the starting job for kicking and punting," said Rhett. "Last season was a blessing. If I look back at where I was a year ago, it's just unbelievable that I got the opportunity to make a game-winner like I did against Guilford. God's brought me all this way within a matter of a year. I trust him, knowing that everything is going to work out—whether I'm supposed to play football or not."
Indeed, it has been a very good couple of years for Rhett. Last season, he was 5-7 on field goals and a perfect 34-34 on extra point attempts. He made a game-winning 46-yard field goal on the final play of the game to lift the Tigers past visiting Guilford (38-35) last October 20, 2018. He also made a 42-yarder at Ferrum last Oct. 27, 2018, and serving as the team's punter, as well, he averaged 35.8 yards on 26 punts with six downed inside the 20—and earned Third Team All-Old Dominion Athletic Conference honors. This season, Rhett is 9-11 on field goals and remains perfect on extra points, making 17-17. He kicked a school-record 49-yard field goal at Guilford on Oct. 26, and made a 48-yarder—a record at the time—against Averett on September 7. The two long field goals are the longest in the ODAC this season. Rhett is also averaging 37.8 yards on 39 punts with five downed inside the 20.
"I know I'm doing my best," explained Rhett. "I'm trying to bring my all, day-in and day-out, and trying to lift others up."
The Tiger coaching staff agrees. "What strikes you about Rhett is his incredible work ethic," said 20th-year head coach Marty Favret. "On a daily basis, he is as prepared as any player on our team. We ask a lot of him and he has delivered."
Asked about his personal faith and the role it plays in his life, Rhett was quick to give a thorough answer.
"I was baptized into the Catholic Church when I was a baby. I prayed throughout high school, but it didn't really hit me until my senior year, when I had that bad moment in high school and everything just kept getting worse. When nothing is going right, you can always turn back to him. That's why I do the sign of the cross before I kick, because all my success comes through him and all my failures are through him and it's all for his purpose. My faith has been strengthened tremendously as I've gone through college. I'm still working on it—I have my ups and downs—but at the end of the day, it's all him, and it's for him."
Regarding the family business, so-to-speak, it's easy to see the love, respect, and admiration that Rhett has for his grandfather.
"Getting to be around him and the organizations he's been with is really cool," said Rhett. "I'm the only college football player right now on my mom's side of the family—my cousins all played high school football, but none of them played college ball. They're doing great and they're very successful, but I feel like it's pretty cool as his grandson to continue to play football and have him watch me. It's also really nice to be able to talk with him about football because he understands the game."
While he originally chose H-SC for football, it's been just about everything else that this tradition-rich school has to offer that has made it home for him.
"I don't want to sound too clichéd, but during my first semester, I don't think I ever had a bad day," said Rhett. "I was always smiling and felt like this was the right place for me to be. I enjoy the social life, the brotherhood, and my friends. I'm very grateful for all the opportunities that my professors, my coaches, and my parents have given me to be here. It's just been a great experience."
Rhett is a gifted Dean's List student, too, earning a 3.97 cumulative grade point average through his first three semesters as an economics major with a minor in German. He was recently inducted into the national leadership honor society Omicron Delta Kappa in recognition of his superior leadership and exemplary character, received one of two Sophomore Academic Excellence Awards at last spring's Final Convocation, and garnered the Samuel S. Jones Phi Beta Kappa Award as the junior with the second-highest GPA at this year's Opening Convocation. He was a 2018-19 ODAC All-Academic Team honoree, as well. Just this week, Andersen was named to the 2019 Academic All-District 5 Football First Team, as selected by the College Sports Information Directors of America (CoSIDA).
He credits Elliott Professor of Modern Languages Dirk Johnson and Townsend Professor of Economics and Business Kenneth Townsend, along with the H-SC/Longwood Catholic Campus Ministry, as having large roles in his life. Rhett is also involved in Bible study groups here and at Longwood, and studied abroad for five weeks in 2018 with The Münster Summer Program, which has sent more than a thousand students to Germany since 1971.
"I go to my professors and I talk about anything," said Rhett. "They have so much experience, not only in school, but in life. They've been through some of the doors that I'm trying to go through, so it's good to go to them for guidance and to seek out answers."
Back to football, he's made four of five field goal attempts of 40-plus yards over the past two seasons—does he lobby for the 50-yard opportunity?
"Obviously, I'm thinking about it," admitted Rhett. "At the same time, as much as I want that, I want to win. I want the 50-yard opportunity, but it's got to be in the situation where we need the points, or it's fourth and 10 and maybe we do kick it. What's best for the team—that's what I've got to focus on."
Rhett's favorite NFL kicker is Justin Tucker of the Baltimore Ravens, who played college football for the University of Texas, and was signed by the Ravens as an undrafted free agent in 2012. As of October 2019, he is the most accurate kicker in NFL history, having made 91% of his career field goal attempts.
"He does the sign of the cross before he kicks, and he's the best kicker in the NFL," said Rhett. "I don't think there is a coincidence there. He's so involved in his faith, and when he does the sign of the cross, you know that ball is going through the uprights. I took that from him and decided, 'I'm going to show my faith and really trust God.'"
Clearly, Rhett Andersen is an impassioned and spiritual young man with deep convictions. Given an opportunity for any final words, he responds as one would imagine.
"I want to say, 'God, bless everyone who has been in my life, cared about me, supported me, given me a chance, and trusted me'. I want to do the best that I can for them. I also want to show my faith to others, because no matter what's going on in my life or where I am, I'm always going to have God. Whether I'm playing football, or not. Whether I'm in school, or not. At the end of the day, it's me and him."