St. Louis Rams kicker Jeff Wilkins shows no signs of slowing down.

Kyle Neddenriep
News-Leader


Branson West — Maybe he's not the face of the franchise, not in the way Issac Bruce or Marshall Faulk or Kurt Warner were during the St. Louis Rams' glory years of the not-too-distant past.
But on that tier right below those identifiable names and faces is a pillar of the franchise. Jeff Wilkins, entering his 14th season as a kicker in the National Football League, is as steady and reliable as they come and goes into his 11th season with the Rams with no plans on stopping.

"Every year you come out and try not to take anything for granted, not look too far ahead, and before you know it you've been in the league 13 years," said Wilkins, who participated in the Rams vs. Kansas City Chiefs Gridiron Golf Challenge on Sunday at Ledgestone Golf Course. "I'm going to try and ride it out as long as I can."

What Wilkins has done in his lengthy career is remarkable considering how unspectacularly it began. Undrafted out of Youngstown State, his hometown school, in 1994, Wilkins was cut by Dallas in training camp before catching on with Philadelphia and handling the kickoff duties in six games.

After an ordinary season with San Francisco in '95, he enjoyed a breakout year with the ***** the following season, then signed with the nondescript Rams in '97. Inside the kicker-friendly elements of the Edwards Jones Dome, Wilkins thrived. Eventually the Rams did too, setting the NFL on fire and winning the Super Bowl in a fairy-tale 1999 season.

Wilkins, 35, kicked three field goals in the 23-16 win over Tennessee in Super Bowl XXXIV.

"That was a special time," Wilkins said of the group that went on to appear in another Super Bowl two years later against New England. "You may see that again or you may not. That was exciting and we still have some of those playmakers so hopefully this year we can do the same thing."

Some of the names, including Pro Bowl wide receivers Torry Holt and Bruce, haven't changed, although second-year coach Scott Linehan has shown a commitment to the running game and the bruising 6-foot-2, 230-pound Steven Jackson, who rushed for 1,528 yards last year in an 8-8 season.

The Rams attempted to shore up a defense that ranked next-to-last in the NFL stopping the run by selecting Nebraska lineman Adam Carriker in the first round.

"I think we've made some additions that should really help us next year," Wilkins said. "We started off pretty good last year, struggled in the middle and then it started to look up again at the end of the year. It's looking positive, but then you have to go out and do it."

One area Linehan won't have to worry about is the kicking game. Wilkins made 32 of 37 field-goal attempts last season and has played an even bigger role as the Rams' offense has come back to the pack since the "Greatest Show on Turf" days when a field goal was rarely needed.

Wilkins admits playing indoors has its obvious advantages in sustaining a kicker's career. He hears about it from kickers in Green Bay, Chicago and New York.

"It's the ideal conditions for me," Wilkins said with a laugh. "It came down to staying with San Francisco or going to the Rams. San Francisco had a very good team at that time and the Rams didn't have a great team, but you could see where they were headed. And the longevity of a kicker playing in a dome is a lot better.

"I'm glad we made the decision because a couple of years later we were playing in a Super Bowl."

Wilkins said he's scaled back his offseason kicking workouts from early in his career to save his leg.

He's picked up golf as a hobby and jumped at the chance to participate in the Gridiron Challenge, along with teammates Dane Looker, Joe Klopfenstein and Mark Aneilli (the Rams lost the match-play event in a playoff against a group of Chiefs alumni, led by Deron Cherry).

Joined by his wife Tina and daughter Britney on the weekend trip to Branson, it would be pretty easy for Wilkins to start imagining what his post-NFL career might be like.

Luckily for Rams fans, he's not. Not yet, anyway.

"I'm reevaluating it year by year," he said. "I'm getting a little older and you can see a little bit of the strength going away, but as long as I can keep it through the uprights, I'll keep going."