No tears were shed on the Northern State campus when Kearney (Neb.) State soccer-style kicker Gregory Timothy “Golden Toes” Cheng graduated.
“There was no special reason why I gave Northern such a hard time; it just happened,” said the 5-foot-7, 147-pound Hong Kong native who made life miserable for the football Wolves during his career:
- As a sophomore, Cheng kicked field goals of 51, 34, 37 and 26 yards and two PATs to lead Kearney to a 26-14 win over Northern. The 51-yarder is the fifth best in Kearney history and stood as the best for more than 30 years. And his four field goals in one game were a Kearney school record until 2002.
- The Wolves and Kearney tied 9-9, thanks to Cheng’s 34-yard field goal with 8:43 left in the game. Fortunately for Northern, Rod Kutter blocked the only Kearney point-after-touchdown kick attempt by Cheng. Northern got all its points from Rich Andrzejewski on his 42-yard field goal and a 1-yard touchdown run after teammate Mark Shannon set up the score with his blocked punt.
- Cheng capped off his career against Northern with his game-wining 21-yard field goal in the fourth quarter as Kearney defeated the nationally ranked Wolves 10-7. Leon Breske and Joe Kramer led a spectacular effort by the Northern defense that day.
Coach Jim Kretchman and his Wolves won the South Dakota Intercollegiate Conference all three of those years but had no solution for Cheng.
“After the 1972 game,” Cheng said, “the Northern State head coach (Kretchman) made an extra effort of coming to our lockers shaking my hand. He said that he was happy they didn’t have to face me anymore and wished me good luck. It was nice to hear such a compliment from an opposing coach.”
The Wolves almost didn’t have to face Cheng at all. He was at Kearney — drawn to a Midwest college by the influence of his older sister who stayed away from East and West coast colleges to attend school in Cincinnati — to get an education and play tennis. He was a two-time NAIA District II Tennis singles champion whose touch-football skills earned him a tryout on the Kearney football team in the middle of the 1970 season.
“In my sophomore year, one classmate who witnessed me kicking off during a touch-football game suggested (that I should give) field-goal kicking a try,” Cheng said.
A tryout was arranged, and in front of the whole team, Cheng made 11 of 12 field goals.
“The rest is history,” he said.
There were few soccer-style kickers, especially in college, in the 1970s. The most famous at the time probably were NFL kickers Jan Stenerud and Garabed Sarkis “Garo” Yepremian.
Earlier in the 1972 season, Cheng kicked a field goal with 21 seconds left to beat Fort Hays (Kan.) State 24-21 on Kearney’s homecoming.
Cheng said he remembered South Dakota well from his college days, when he traveled not only to Aberdeen but to tourist spots including the Mitchell Corn Palace, the Fort Randall Dam, Sioux Falls, Watertown and the Black Hills.
These days, Cheng lives in Canada, where is retired from his career in the information technology department of the Toronto schools. He lives in Richmond Hill, which is just north of Toronto, Ontario.