COLUMBUS — Ryan Pretorius was spoiled rotten as a kid.

His family had a Jacuzzi. Tennis and basketball courts. Servants.

Life has changed for the 28-year-old Ohio State kicker. When he moved to Ohio, he slept on friends’ floors and had no money. Things picked up last season when he was put on full scholarship.

“I’m living a dream,” he said, with an accent that’s a mix of English and French. “I’m dreaming about the NFL, but I’ve got to take it one day at a time. I have to prove myself today.” Pretorius isn’t your normal college player. His age often is the butt of jokes, occasionally from coach Jim Tressel.

When Tressel and Pretorius are about to walk through a door, the head coach stops and opens it for his kicker.

“Age before beauty, Ryan,” Tressel cracks.

“I love the guy,” Pretorius said. “He’s hilarious. He has a nice, dry sense of humor. I always laugh.”

There wasn’t much laughter in his life this summer. Pretorius went through a divorce. With few teammates who would understand, Pretorius often found himself sitting across from the head coach in Tressel’s office.

Born in Zimbabwe, Pretorius grew up in South Africa and lived in England, France and Spain. His father, a dentist, went to high school with golfer Nick Price.

“My dad said to him one time, ‘Why on earth do you and Mark McNulty play golf every single day?’ ” Pretorius recalled. “Nick said to my dad because one day he wanted to be the best golfer in the world.

“Zimbabwe is a tiny country without much going for it. ... No matter where you come from, or your background, you can achieve anything if you follow your


Pretorius followed his to Columbus, turning down a pro rugby contract to play college football. He filmed himself kicking field goals, then sent the tape to colleges.

A family friend put him in touch with Ohio State.

Every opportunity

Last year, Pretorius thought he might get the nod as Ohio State’s place-kicker. He struggled in the kicking scrimmage and lost out to Aaron Pettrey.

“I had a solid camp and messed up in the kick scrimmage. Aaron won the kick duties and did a good job during the season,” Pretorius said. “Coach Tressel never changed anything, although he did give me an opportunity against Cincinnati. I hit the 52-yarder, and I was delighted about it.”

Pretorius uses words not customary to a college locker room. Delighted. Jolly good. Jeepers.

While he speaks different, he feels much like his teammates.

Pretorius was miffed about playing time. He thought about transferring.

“I was frustrated after I hit the long field goal, and I never got another opportunity,” Pretorius said. “If I hit the long field goal and was consistent ... I didn’t see why I wouldn’t get another opportunity. I was told by a lot of people I could start at just about any other big Division I school. ... I looked at Alabama and knew their kicker was struggling.”

So Pretorius went to Dick Tressel, brother of the head coach, and laid out his plan. He told “Doc” Tressel he planned to transfer if he didn’t get a fair shake during spring and summer to be the kicker.

“I praise God for making me go nuts and getting it out there,” Pretorius said. “It’s paying dividends now.”

After the kicking scrimmage a few weeks ago, Tressel made the surprising announcement that Pretorius would kick field goals, and Pettrey would handle kickoffs. Since then, Pettrey hurt his leg, and Pretorius is handling all of the kicking.

“I’m so glad I stayed,” he said. “I’ve got 125 of the best friends in the world. We’re like a family. I think Ohio State is the greatest university in the country, if not the world.”

‘A kid at heart’

That locker room is interesting. Pretorius has found his place as the old guy. Last year, he was older than graduate assistant P.J. Fleck, now an assistant at Northern Illinois.

The generation gap hasn’t stopped Pretorius from becoming friends with St. Thomas Aquinas graduate Jon Thoma, who’s his holder, and Dimitrios Makridis, his long snapper.

“I feel very old, but I’m a kid at heart,” said Pretorius, who hit a 24-yarder in the opener against Youngstown State and forced the Penguins to start drives at or inside the 20 four times. “Jon was telling the media the other day I was like a 10-year-old. I’m probably more mature than most of them, but I love it.

“I feel like a big brother to Jon, but I’m probably old enough to be his dad.”

Pretorius laughs.

“These guys are a decade younger than me,” he said. “I look at them and say, ‘Jeepers! Your bodies must be feeling fantastic in the morning.’ ”

Pretorius has a bum shoulder from years of playing rugby. Football is easier.

“All I have to do is kick the ball between two sticks,” he said. “But there’s a lot of pressure on you every Saturday and every day in practice.”

And there are times when that pressure and stress are relieved. His teammates try to mimic his accent. Pretorius thinks they’re way off, but he hasn’t heard himself try to do Pettrey’s Kentucky accent.

“Every now and then, “I’m like, ‘What’s up, diggity dog?’ ” Pretorius said. “Everything has to end in dog, or is it dawg?”

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