When Los Angeles Rams kicker Greg Zuerlein nailed consecutive long-distance field goals with a trip to the Super Bowl on the line, it didn’t surprise former Lincoln Pius X head football coach Tim Aylward.
“[Zuerlein] has that confidence in himself,” Aylward said. “He knows that if he has that opportunity, he wants to try it because he really believes he can make it.”
Aylward coached Lincoln Pius X for 31 years until his retirement in 2015 and was Zuerlein’s coach until he graduated in 2006.
Aylward’s relationship with Zuerlein extends beyond player and coach, as Zuerlein developed friendships with Aylward’s sons throughout high school. The Aylward family tries to make it routine to catch up with Zuerlein, along with Zeurlein’s wife, fellow Lincoln Pius X graduate Megan, and their three children.
“We’re all just really proud and excited for [Zuerlein] to know what he’s accomplishing,” Aylward said. “It’s a little more than a coach-player relationship because he and my son went to high school together, and I’ve got to know him outside of football.”
The Aylward family visited Zuerlein and his family in Los Angeles to watch him play against the San Francisco 49ers on Dec. 30. The meeting included a visit to the Zuerlein family’s house in Thousand Oaks, California, a day before the game.
“Just to know [Greg and Megan] both, seeing them grow up and become adults has been a neat thing to see,” Aylward said.
Zuerlein’s professional football potential was often on display during his playing career under Aylward at Pius X. He set state records, earned All-State honors during his upperclassman years and helped Pius X win a state championship in 2004.
He received various offers to kick in college, which included a walk-on spot at Nebraska and a scholarship offer from the University of Nebraska-Omaha (UNO). With high school coaches heavily involved in recruiting, Zuerlein came to Aylward for advice
“I said, ‘Greg, [UNO] is offering you some scholarship money, why not take the money?’,” Aylward said.
Zuerlein signed to play with UNO, while Nebraska signed eventual fourth-round NFL Draft pick Alex Henery and placekicker Adi Kunalic in its 2007 recruiting class.
“I think he would’ve held his own with that competition, but it would be easy to get lost down in that shuffle,” Aylward said.
When UNO cut its football program in 2011, Zuerlein transferred to Missouri Western State for his senior season before being selected 171st overall in the sixth round by the St. Louis Rams in the 2012 NFL Draft.
Since then, Zuerlein has made a name for himself as one of the best kickers in the NFL. He’s made more than 83 percent of his field goals throughout his career, with a career long 61-yard field goal in 2015.
Zuerlein’s knack for nailing long-distance field goals earned him various nicknames across the league, like “Legatron” and “Greg the Leg.”
“He’s always had that potential of becoming what he is right now,” Aylward said. “Every year after every level of football, he’s continued to get better and stronger.”
Zuerlein is the second Lincoln Pius X graduate and former player of Aylward to play in the Super Bowl after former Nebraska and Oakland Raiders center Adam Treu, who played in Super Bowl XXXVII in 2003. With Super Bowl LIII kicking off on Feb. 3, Aylward has a knowingly homer attitude when it comes to this game.
“Just because of my relationship with Greg, I say the Rams win 31-28,” Aylward said. “With a last-second field goal by Zuerlein to win.”