Looking for a few kamikaze practice-squad bodies, the Nevada football team held an open tryout for students six days before its season opener against Northwestern in 2017. What the Wolf Pack found was a skinny, long-haired kicker whose foot just made a different noise than others when it struck the ball.
A Las Vegas native, Ramiz Ahmed had kicked for local powerhouse Bishop Gorman — but not in the three seasons since. He attended Arizona State and UNLV as a student, not a football player, before going to Nevada. He was thin and raw — and had a shoulder that, rather inconveniently, often popped out of socket.
He also was down to two years of eligibility — his clock started the minute he enrolled in his first 12 units of courses, even though he wasn’t playing sports. His kickoffs didn’t have hang time, and his field goals were inconsistent.
His leg, though, was something different.
“Like a shotgun going off,” former Nevada special-teams coach Tommy Perry said this week. “He came out just banging the ball, just destroying it.”
That was enough for Perry to add Ahmed to the team and for Nevada to hustle him through the NCAA clearinghouse in time for him to make his debut in the next game.
Less than three years later, Ahmed has earned an even greater opportunity — to compete with Eddy Pineiro, who went 23-for-28 last year, for the Bears’ kicker job.
The back fields of Halas Hall are littered with kickers who had unrealistic expectations placed upon them in the wake of Cody Parkey’s double-doink. Ahmed joined that group — metaphorically, at least, as the Bears aren’t yet allowed to return to their practice facility — when he signed April 17.
This year won’t be the circus of last year’s seven-man kicker derby, though. Instead, it’s a reminder that Pineiro must continue to earn the Bears’ trust.
Ahmed’s résumé is less impressive than most of the participants in last year’s derby. He went 15-for-20 on field goals in his career, all during his senior year. He handled kickoffs as a junior and senior.
Ahmed had his shoulder fixed in 2018, the offseason before his senior year. He returned to the team having put on 26 pounds of muscle, Perry said. Ahmed — whom the Bears list at 6 feet, 190 pounds — won team awards for his offseason dedication.
For the only time in his college career, he kicked field goals. He earned a scholarship.
“His competitiveness and leg strength wouldn’t keep him off the field,” said Perry, who now coaches special teams at Texas-San Antonio.
Since playing his last college game almost a year and a half ago, Ahmed has worked with kicking guru Jamie Kohl, who consults for the Bears. Kohl and Perry use the same terminology, which has aided the search for consistency. Perry said Ahmed has thrived by having “some healthy time in a structured environment” under Kohl. It’s a new feeling; he had one offseason in college, and it was dominated by shoulder surgery.
General manager Ryan Pace said the Bears were impressed after Ahmed starred at Gary Zauner’s showcase camp in Gilbert, Arizona, from March 8-10.
Zauner remembers the leg strength. He estimates Ahmed, who was kicking in front of representatives from 27 NFL teams, didn’t start missing kicks until he reached about 57 yards out.
“With his ability to kick field goals, I think he turned a lot of heads,” he said.
It will take something similar, whenever the Bears practice again, to challenge Pineiro.
He won’t be intimidated by the competition. Perry said his relationship with Ahmed had that “little bit of friction” that’s common in all the good specialists he has coached. Like Pineiro, Ahmed has an ego when it comes to his kicking.
“He’ll kill himself trying to make it,” Perry said. “He’s an underdog guy.”