From Norwegian soccer to American football, Ravens rookie Kaare Vedvik looks for a leg up

The club has been around seven years, ever since Ravens kicker Justin Tucker showed up in 2012 as an undrafted free agent with an offbeat personality and a booming right leg and took the job from Billy Cundiff.

“The Wolfpack,” the name Tucker bestowed on a triumvirate that also included two veterans, punter Sam Koch and long snapper Morgan Cox, was born. Its membership has since remain unchanged.

But Kaare Vedvik, with a 70-yard field goal on the team’s indoor practice field last month and a 67-yarder in a light rain early in training camp, is doing his best to get noticed. And not just by the Ravens.

The relatively unknown undrafted rookie from Norway, who also punted and kicked off during his college career at Marshall, will start showcasing his talents beyond Baltimore when the Ravens open their preseason Thursday night against the Chicago Bears in the Pro Football Hall of Fame Game.

Ravens special teams coordinator Jerry Rosburg said Monday that he expects Vedvik to both kick and punt in the game in Canton, Ohio.

“Where you make that line, where you make that decision, is still to be determined,” Rosburg said. “It’s going to be up to Kaare [pronounced Cory], be up to wherever his career takes him. He’s demonstrated to us that the talents that he has can be used [on the] punt team and on the field-goal team.”

Vedvik understands that he’s a long shot to unseat either Koch, going into his 13th season with the Ravens, or Tucker. Both are among the best at their respective positions in the NFL.

“I believe that competition breeds success,” Vedvik said after a practice last week. “Whether there’s competition or not, I’m creating my own competition for myself. I go out there and try to compete against Sam. I try to compete against Justin, no matter what. That’s how you elevate your own game. They’ve set a standard here, which is sky high. If you’re able to reach that standard, you’re doing OK.”

Growing up in Norway, Vedvik played soccer. He didn’t even think about American football until watching the Super Bowl about seven years ago, which was being broadcast on Norwegian television for the first time.

“I was amazed by the sport,” Vedvik recalled. “It seemed like a really, really interesting sport. It was a sport I was never able to try growing up. I loved any sport that was fun, and football seemed really, really fun.”

That was motivation enough for Vedvik to come to the United States as an exchange student in high school. He spent his junior season at McPherson High (Kan.) and impressed college recruiters with a 70-yard field goal at a Kohl’s Kicking Camp in Texas.

“I really didn’t go in with the mindset that it was going to be hard,” said Vedvik, who returned to Norway for his final year of high school. “I embrace new things and a new culture. That’s the reason I came here. I wanted to see something different.”

Vedvik, who played competitive soccer until age 17, would have had to quit his first love had he stayed in Norway.

“After that, school gets pretty demanding, and we don’t have sports in school,” Vedvik said. “I was kind of reluctant to quit sports entirely. The U.S. offers sports in school, and I could get the same credits and the same classes.”

Recruited to Marshall as a kicker, Vedvik redshirted his first year, handled kickoffs in his second and sat out his third while learning how to punt.

“Soccer is a little different in the fact [that] you do a lot more curveballs. You put a spin on the ball, and if you put a spin on the ball, you come through the ball differently,” Vedvik said.

“Learning how to kick field goals, the biggest thing for me was to stop swiping across and trying to kick a straighter ball. That’s the biggest difference: In soccer, you’re trying to curve balls around a defender.”

Averaging 40 yards per punt as a redshirt junior, Vedvik improved to a 44-yard average his final year, including a 92-yard punt against Old Dominion that he said traveled 67 yards in the air. He also made 10 of 16 field-goal attempts, with a long of 45 yards.

A private workout with Rosburg led to an invitation to the Ravens’ organized team activities as a punter in the spring.

“Jerry showed a lot of interest. We had some mutual connections,” Vedvik said. “We had a great conversation. We had a great workout. It just clicked. Certain coaches, you just know. We have good chemistry. We have each other’s best interest in place. We just want to get better.”

Vedvik crediting Rosburg and kicking coach Randy Brown, as well as the “The Wolfpack," with his progress to date.

“They have a great environment here to develop young kickers and make them true professionals,” Vedvik said.

Said Rosburg: ”We try to recruit players that have the talent level to play in the league. Then it’s up to them, but it’s up to us to try to mold them into NFL players.”

As current New Orleans Saints kicker Wil Lutz did in training camp two years ago, when he was a relative unknown out of Georgia State, Vedvik has so far gone virtually toe-to-toe with Tucker, a two-time Pro Bowl selection.

And, just as Lutz did by signing with the Saints a week after the Ravens waived him in late August 2016, Vedvik hopes to find a home elsewhere if, as expected, he loses out to Tucker.

“Kaare’s got a lot of talent,” Tucker said after practice Saturday. “Right now, without even having played any games, I think he can have a bright future in this league.”

Asked whether he was surprised by the 6-foot-3, 210-pound Vedvik’s power, despite having not played football for long, Tucker said some kickers are just naturally gifted.

“The guys who are able to do that, they’re just good athletes in general, and Kaare is a good athlete,” Tucker said. “He hasn’t played a lot of football. He has plenty of ability.”

Said Koch: “When he came in, he’s got such a strong leg. You’ve got to have a strong leg in order to get looked at. He’s got a lot of talent. It’s one of those things — bringing him in, honing his skills and seeing what he can do from here.”

Koch, a Pro Bowl selection in 2015, said Vedvik’s versatility should be helpful in finding a job in the NFL.

“As talented as Kaare is, he has the ability to do both," Koch said. “The problem is, you never see too many guy be able to do both throughout the season because of the toll it puts on the body."

Vedvik is not looking that far in the future, though he certainly wouldn’t mind following in the footsteps of Jan Stenerud, the first Norwegian ever to play in the NFL and the first pure kicker to be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

For now, Vedvik simply wants a chance to get his own NFL career started. It doesn’t matter whether he punts or kicks.

“I am trying to do my best in both,” he said. “It’s really up to me.”

Baltimore Sun reporter Edward Lee contributed to this story.

don.markus@baltsun.com

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