Don Cockroft parlayed a strong leg and the rare air at then-Adams State College in Alamosa to jump-start a stellar college and professional football career.
“I was a walk-on there,” Cockroft said about ASC. As a senior at Fountain-Fort Carson High School, he had hoped to attend Colorado State University but the Rams weren’t interested. “I made the varsity at Adams, and the rest is history.
Instead, Cockroft enrolled at ASC, earned All-America honors as a kicker and went on to place-kick and punt for the Cleveland Browns.
“I had the leg,” the 68-year-old Cockroft said, but laughed when asked about the boost Alamosa’s high altitude gave his kicking.
It might have helped him to a 48.1-yard average as a senior to lead the nation in punting, but it was his performance at the annual Al Kaly Shrine Game that caught the attention of the pros, he said.
Cockroft was drafted by Cleveland in the third round of the 1967 NFL Draft and replaced the legendary Lou Groza.
He was one of the last straight-on kickers as well as a double-duty kicker. Cockroft retired in 1981 with 1080 points as the Browns second all-time scorer and eighth-leading scorer in NFL history.
He was the Browns punter for nine years and place kicker throughout his 13-year career with the Browns.
Although he left the Colorado high altitude behind, Cockroft continued to excel in Cleveland. He led the 16-team NFL with a 75 per cent field goal accuracy as a rookie and after the merger with the American Football League, he led the expanded 26-team NFL in 1972 (81.5 per cent) and in 1974 (87.5 per cent).
He was inducted into the Cleveland Sports Hall of Fame in 2002 and into the Cleveland Browns Legends in 2007.
“They named me one of the top 100 Cleveland Browns players,” Cockroft said. “Being inducted into the Colorado Sports Hall of Fame is a real honor for me. Colorado is still home for me.
“And the honor is for Fountain-Fort Carson and ASU.”
Cockroft lived in Colorado for some 30 years after retiring, working in business, primarily marketing and sales. He now lives in Canton, Ohio, and has written a book, “The 1980 Kardiac Kids — Our Untold Stories,” a 672-page coffee table book that was released in the fall of 2011.
I loved football and loved to hit people. I was more than just a kicker.