By Nick Wagoner
Staff Writer

Most young football players dream about getting a chance to play in the NFL. An opportunity to put on any NFL uniform is good enough to make any kid drool. But, what if you had the chance to play in your hometown on Monday Night Football after a few years of bouncing around?

Put more simply, what if you were new Rams punter Kevin Stemke? He lived out his childhood dream of playing in the NFL after signing with St. Louis on Friday. Stemke replaced one of the league’s most well known punters in Sean Landeta, who was released Friday.

He traveled with the Rams to his hometown of Green Bay, Wis., to play in front of his friends and family against the team he grew up rooting for, on the field (Lambeau Field) he fantasized about playing on and all of it happened on Monday Night Football.

Stemke’s debut was a solid one. He had just two punts, but dropped both inside the 20, with a long of 39 yards.

“That’s just about my dream come true,” Stemke said. “This is about as good as the opportunities get. I’ve just got to go out and perform and convince them they made the right decision.”

Perhaps the most amazing part of all of it is the distance Stemke had to travel for the opportunity.

The Rams contacted him early lat week, asking him to come in for a tryout. It was getting him to St. Louis that was the hard part. Stemke has been living in Mulhouse, France with his wife Elizabeth, who is a professional volleyball player there.

When the Rams called, Stemke was living with his wife and working out in case he got an opportunity with an NFL team. Stemke played in two games with Oakland in 2002, averaging 42.4 yards per punt. That came after a training camp stint with the hometown Packers in 2001 and time with the Rams in 2002 after an impressive career at the University of Wisconsin.

There he earned the first Ray Guy Award as the NCAA’s best punter. He spent this preseason with Washington. He punted against the Rams in their preseason game on Aug. 27. He had one punt in that game, a booming 58-yard kick that landed inside the Rams 20. That wasn’t enough, though, and Stemke was cut.

He was then left with a decision to make.

“I stuck around for a while and had a few workouts, but I didn’t get a call for a couple of weeks,” Stemke said. “I said, ‘I’m going to join my wife in France and live off her for awhile.”

Stemke arrived in St. Louis on Thursday after struggling to find a flight out of the tiny city in northwest France. When he finally located one, he hopped on the plane, had a layover in London and was in the Gateway City in time for Turkey Day.

Rams coach Mike Martz said the team has had its eye on Stemke for awhile, from the time Stemke spent with St. Louis and his performance against the Rams in the preseason.

“He most definitely did (make an impression),” Martz said. “That’s why we have kept track of his whereabouts for some time. We felt like he would always be the guy if we felt the need.”

Stemke’s love of kicking was grown at an early age and can be directly attributed to his father Horst. Horst Stemke was a member of the 1968 and 1872 U.S. Olympic soccer teams. He got the chance to watch his son’s first NFL game.

Unfortunately for Kevin Stemke, his wife was one of the few immediate family members that didn’t get to see his first game, even on television. Stemke said it was hard for him to keep up with the NFL when he was overseas and his wife, even if she were to find an American bar would have had to convince it to stay open until about 3 a.m.

With the amount of uncertainty about job security in the NFL, Stemke has already learned an important lesson about the way the business works. Such is the life of a punter.

“In my experience it is (the way punters live),” Stemke said. “I have bounced around so much that I’ve learned not to unpack my bags.”

For the first time in his young career, Stemke can fill his drawers with clothes. He is a starting punter in the NFL and the timing and scenario couldn’t have been any better.