The Los Angeles Chargers were mulling a kicker change early in the 2018 season when they brought Michael Badgley in for a workout.
Perennially snake-bitten at the position, the Chargers had gone through an especially excruciating five-game stretch where Caleb Sturgis had missed four extra points and three field goals while dealing with a quad injury.
Badgley had little track record to speak of as an undrafted rookie out of Miami who attempted five preseason field goals with the Indianapolis Colts, but one member of the Chargers staff, now-Detroit Lions assistant Seth Ryan, assured then-Chargers coach Anthony Lynn that wouldn’t be a problem.
Ryan played four years of football with Badgley at New Jersey’s Summit High School and knew him well. He held for Badgley on kicks. He played receiver when Badgley took over at quarterback. He started at cornerback while Badgley played safety. He watched Badgley win four high school state championships in three sports — football, hockey and lacrosse, twice — while captaining each team.
“I was like, ‘Coach, he’s not a traditional kicker. He’s an athlete that can kick,’” Ryan told Lynn. “I was like, ‘He will fit in more with a team than a traditional kicker would, or he can do things if ever needed because he is a good athlete.’ That’s where he is very different in the sense of a traditional kicker.”
Traditional or not, the Lions have been looking for stability at the kicker position for going on two years, since letting Matt Prater walk in free agency in the spring of 2021.
They’ve employed 10 different kickers in that time, have had six of those kick in games, and as they take their first two-game winning streak in more than two years into Sunday’s game against the New York Giants, they hope the man who grew up a short drive from MetLife Stadium can be their long-term answer at the position.
“I’ve really enjoyed being around him,” Lions special teams coordinator Dave Fipp said. “I would say that, and really the biggest reason why I say that is because he’s very confident in himself. And he knows who he is, and he knows the kicker position. And what comes with the kicker position is the highs and the lows. And everyone wants to make it huge and awful and great and terrible, and he is like just right down the middle all the time.”
Badgley has been right down the middle with his kicks in five games as a Lion, going a perfect 5-for-5 on field goals and 8-for-8 on extra points. He made the decisive point-after try with 2:21 to play in last week’s 31-30 win over the Chicago Bears, a team he spent a weekend with last month when Cairo Santos was out with a personal issue.
Badgley made all four of his field goal attempts in his only game with the Bears, a 20-12 loss to the Giants at MetLife Stadium that marked his first game in the building since he led his Summit team to the state title there in 2012.
Next month, when the Lions return to MetLife to face the New York Jets, Badgley can become just the second player to play three games as a visitor in one stadium in the same season in NFL history.
It’s a quirky but special stat for a player who grew up a 30-minute drive from the stadium — 45 minutes with traffic — and who expects 50 or so friends and family members at Sunday’s game.
“It’s awesome,” Badgley said. “It’s one of those situations, it makes it just that much more fun. It’s always easy for everybody to get to. Growing up, playing that state championship game out there, I remember how surreal that was getting to run out of the tunnel and seeing that. But yeah, even the fact that the stadium’s in New Jersey, it’s always cool to see it going home.”
Badgley starred in his first game in MetLife nearly 10 years ago, when he ran for a touchdown, returned an interception for another, kicked a 29-yard field goal and quarterbacked Summit to a 30-0 win over Palisades Park in the North Jersey Section 2, Group 3 title game.
A center/forward on the Hilltoppers’ hockey team and a midfielder in lacrosse who seemed destined to follow his brother as a Division I lacrosse player until his football career took off, Badgley ranks alongside former Kansas City Royals star Willie Wilson among the best athletes in Summit history.
“He was tremendous,” said John Liberato, Summit’s former head football coach and now the team’s offensive coordinator. “For us, he was our quarterback, he was our running back, he was a receiver on offense. Played all three positions. On defense, he was our free safety and sometimes our outside linebacker. And he returned our kickoffs, he returned our punts, he punted and he kicked. Never came off the field.
“The only time he came off the field was when we’re up by 40. His senior year we went 12-0 so that happened a lot.”
Badgley began kicking in sixth grade, a couple years after he started playing organized football, because extra points at the time were worth more (two points) than traditional two-point conversions (one).
He never had a kicking coach in high school and spent a few months at Fork Union Military Academy before signing with Miami, but oozed confidence on the field as a kicker.
Liberato recalled one game against rival Cranston, when Badgley made the winning field goal from about 37 yards out with 3 seconds to play “on a cold, windy, misty night” after the other team tried to ice him with a timeout.
“I bring the guys off ’cause it’s timeout,” Liberato recalled. “He looked at me, he goes, ‘Does that guy really think he’s going to ice me?’ I said, ‘Mike,’ I said, ‘Right now they’re trying to do anything ’cause they know this is going right through the middle of the two uprights.’ And he slammed it right through. It was great.”
Badgley’s competitiveness and cocksure attitude have made him a unique fit in college and NFL locker rooms, where specialists often spend large portions of their day working by themselves.
Former Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers once said he knew Badgley was different when he saw the kicker throw a football; Badgley said he can throw it about 60 yards, though Ryan pegged him at closer to 45.
And after making 15 of 16 field goals as a rookie and a franchise record-setting five more in the Chargers’ playoff upset of the Baltimore Ravens, Badgley trademarked the nickname “Money Badger.”
“I love Badge,” Ryan said. “He’s a little cocky, but I love him. He fits in very well with the guys. He’s not particularly — quirky. Like, he’s a dude. He’s a guy. He’s just one of the guys, which is really cool to see someone that I grew up with, too.
“I think it’s extremely beneficial (in the locker room) because guys have more trust. They trust the guy. Sometimes a kicker may not even, guys may not even talk to him because he does his thing off to the side and he just goes. Where these guys, they’re like pulling for him, they want all the success. He’s one of us.”
Badgley said he wants to be one of the Lions for a long time.
He missed half of the 2019 season with a groin injury and struggled with accuracy in 2020, when he made 24 of 33 kicks and was 10 of 19 from 40-plus yards. Last year, Badgley split his time between the Indianapolis Colts and Tennessee Titans, then was out of work until the Bears called this year.
The Lions signed Badgley to their practice squad two days after he was released by the Bears, and the marriage appears to be a fit for everyone involved so far.
“I think he’s done a great job,” Fipp said. “He’s gone in there and every opportunity he’s had, he’s made the most of it. He is very comfortable with who he is, knows exactly who he is and he’s very effective or has been very effective for us. I’ve got a lot of confidence in him.”