THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. – There was perhaps a time when Pro Bowl recognition seemed unlikely for Matt Gay.
The winner of the Lou Groza award (nation's top collegiate placekicker) during his first season at the University of Utah and a semifinalist during his second, Gay became a fifth-round draft pick by the Buccaneers in 2019, only to be waived by them in early September 2020. He then spent several weeks on the Colts practice squad.
"All the while, just knowing deep down in your heart that you're a starter in this league, and that you deserve to be playing on Sundays, and just sticking to your guns and really believing in yourself and having a wife and family that are supporting you the whole way believe in you as well," Gay said during a video conference with reporters Thursday. "And just making sure that when I did get back out on that field, I was gonna make the most of it."
Eventually he was signed by the Rams, where he would make the most of his opportunity. He found the place for him, and the place where he was named to his first Pro Bowl on Wednesday.
"Thankfully the Rams gave me that opportunity," Gay said. "And I can't say enough about this team, coaches, the confidence they've given me, my o-line up front doing the dirty work blocking, (punter) Johnny Hekker and (longsnapper) Matt Orzech snapping and hold the ball. They're great. I love working here. I love coming to work every day. And so it's just a it's just an honor to receive this. And it's really a testament to the group that we have here."
Considering that journey, Gay's initial reaction to earning the honor probably likely doesn't come as much of a surprise.
He was getting treatment at the team's facility when he received a text from Rams Vice President of Communications Artis Twyman informing him he had been named to his first Pro Bowl. He was so shocked, he had to re-read the text at first for it to truly sink in.
Once that feeling had settled, the first person he called afterward was his wife, Millie, who played just as critical of a role in him getting the recognition.
"My wife, one-thousand percent," Gay said, pausing for a moment to collect himself. "My wife was the first person I called, because she's seen me through the times that have been rough, been tough, the lowest of lows. I mean, she sees you at your most vulnerable. She's been there to support and love through those times, she's also been the one to get me out of it and be a little hard on me when I need to be told to be get going. And so, she's the real champ behind this, because she's the one who keeps me going, she's one who's been there through everything, the good and the bad. She's the one that sacrifices a lot, especially being apart – she's back in Utah with the kids right now, so she takes a lot of that sacrifice, as well as my kids take a lot of that sacrifice. Just thankful to have her in my life and grateful for her."
In 15 games this season, Gay has made 28 of 29 field goal attempts for an NFL-leading 96.6 field goal percentage. He's also made 40 of 41 extra point attempts, and his 53 touchbacks on kickoffs are tied with the Broncos' Brandon McManus for sixth-most in the league.
"He's been great," Rams quarterback Matthew Stafford said Thursday. "He's been absolutely great early in games, late in games, when you need him most. He's done a heck of a job. He's made short field goals, long field goals. I took a sack or two last week that really kind of kicked us out of range. So, I wish I could have given him a couple more opportunities. We could've had at least six, probably at least six more points on the board somewhere there. So, he's been great for us. Every point counts in this league. How the games are close and got to have them. And we've got a guy that's been great so far and been really clutch. So, it's been awesome to be a part of it."
So, what kind of a celebration does a first Pro Bowl call for?
Like the kicking routine that has helped him produce at high level this year, Gay will probably keep it simple.
"We're pretty simple people," Gay said. "Good news, eat some chocolate, celebrate, get some dessert or something like that, get a good meal, that's the extent of what we go for."