Against Oregon State a few weeks ago, true freshman kicker Michael Luckhurst hit his first-ever field goal for Cal, a team he grew up watching.
He only just arrived on campus in June of this year, but he’s already cemented himself as Cal’s kickoff placekicker and seems to be in pole position to take over all kicking duties next year. Arguably the Bears’ most underrated recruit in the 2022 class, Luckhurst held offers from some of the biggest programs in the country before committing to Cal.
In the same game, he recorded two bone-crunching tackles, both on OSU kick returns. On both occasions he flies out of nowhere, keeps his head up and buries the Beavers’ kick returner.
As it turns out, it’s fun to watch the kicker make the two best tackles of the game. Just how crazy do you have to be to sit on the bench for the majority of the game on a cold Corvallis night, then run about 60 yards, full-bore, at an oncoming ball-carrier? And how athletic do you have to be to do that? How competitive and determined?
Adam, one of Luckhurst’s older brothers, paused when I asked him to describe his youngest sibling.
The word finally came to him: Crazy.
“I think it’s pretty hard to (describe him) in one word, let alone a sentence,” said Adam. “I mean, he’s just, he’s a crazy kid.”
Luckhurst’s father, Mick Luckhurst, prefers “fun-loving” and I prefer it, too. During our interview, he would direct the conversation down much more amusing paths than my dry, canned questions ever could.
I did not expect the two best tackles of the game to come from the freshman kicker. I also did not expect him to be such a driven individual while at the same time seeming so content and joyful. He’s a natural athlete and yet devotes so much time and effort to being better.
He’s got a bright red head of hair but bleeds blue and gold.
Upon meeting Luckhurst, one will find that he is full of surprises. Happy surprises, always.
Luckhurst is the youngest child of a very accomplished family. He’s also the product of a Cal-fan household and grew up watching Cal football in the living room of his childhood home in Santa Barbara, California.
Luckhurst’s father played rugby and kicked for Cal back in 1979 and 1980 after moving to the United States from Redbourn, England. He then played for six years with the Atlanta Falcons and, after retiring from football, became an NFL commentator on British television.
Cal’s current Luckhurst kicker along with his brothers and father devoted fall Saturday afternoons to watching Cal football in the living room. Luckhurst had Cal Fatheads and posters plastered all over the walls of his childhood bedroom. He says that, to this day, he brags to his USC friends about Jared Goff’s No. 1 overall selection in the 2016 NFL Draft.
“I remember the first time I kicked in the stadium, I sat in the middle for a minute and I was like, this is unreal,” said Luckhurst. “I just grew up watching Cal football games every Saturday. And just to be on the field, let alone kicking on it, was like a dream come true.”
There was no expectation that Luckhurst would become a Bear once offered, or even an expectation that he would pursue a career as a kicker. Far from it. In fact, surprisingly enough, he didn’t kick until his junior year of high school. In keeping with tradition, Luckhurst watched his siblings do it first.
Adam Luckhurst is two years older than Luckurst and plays soccer at the University of South Carolina. Jack, who is four years older, kicked at Arizona State and has since transferred to play for the Gamecocks. One of his sisters, Laura, holds a master’s degree in medieval history and the other, Nikki, played basketball for Tulane and the Great Britain National Team. His two older brothers were his inspiration as a kid.
While Luckhurst waited for his brother Adam to vacate the starting kicker position, he played quarterback, safety and cornerback on the football team and played striker on the varsity soccer team. Before he quit soccer to pursue kicking before his junior season, Luckhurst was a soccer fiend. Luckhurst’s father recalls taking trips to England to watch his youngest son play some of the best academy teams in the country: Manchester United, Arsenal and Manchester City, among others. He woke up every morning to a fathead of Manchester United legend Wayne Rooney on the wall facing his bed.
Sports were and are Luckhurst’s outlet. He says they are what help him be the positive person he is. So when he underwent three surgeries prior to his junior year of high school, he had to go without what he loved for quite some time.
“(It) took like nine months to recover from and I still wasn’t the same for about a year afterwards,” said Luckhurst. “And it was hard for me just because my whole life was sports and I kind of had to find a way to keep myself occupied or keep myself happy outside of sports.”
He was cheerful throughout most of the interview, a big brilliant smile showing itself more than it hid. But when he brought up his surgeries, or the goals he has set for his football career, he would suddenly become more somber.
He’s fun-loving, of course. But behind the outward-facing Michael Luckhurst there’s an intense side of him; the side that wants to be “the best kicker to ever come out of Cal”. In his bedroom he keeps a goal sheet with all of his goals before reaching the NFL.
“I don’t even know how to describe Michael because if he puts his mind to something, he cares about it so much,” said his brother Adam.
His father stated repeatedly just how much integrity his youngest child has.
“He takes what he is doing seriously and he wants to do well at it, but at the same time, he’s got this lovely ability to enjoy life and let people around and enjoy it,” said his father. “But you’ll find, he would say, ‘I want to win.’ He does not like losing. He wants all his teammates to feel every game we’ve done everything we possibly could have done to win that game. That’s that integrity of playing or doing anything in life.”
Even when he was a little kid, Luckhurst was full of funny little surprises. The Luckhursts were visiting Redbourn, Luckhurst’s father’s hometown, and the family was walking towards the main street in the village early in the morning.
“Michael was, you know, five. I don’t know how old, but he wasn’t very old. There was one store open where we could get a bacon sandwich, ” said his father. “This English man walks out, (Michael) says ‘hello, old bean’ in an English accent. Nothing other than just fun. And he had no idea what he was actually saying or doing. But that’s Michael. He’s just a free spirit, having fun, enjoying life, enjoying people.”
It seems that he’s never had a hard time making others feel comfortable around him. Adam, whom Luckhurst said he held on a pedestal as a little kid along with Jack, would never admit that his kid brother is an exceptionally kind guy. Except that he did.
“It seems like half the time he doesn’t even realize how nice he is to everyone,” said his brother. “And I think it’s such a good trait that he has. I mean, I’m never going to tell him because I’m his brother. But it’s definitely true.”
He’s a kicker, a friendly college freshman and a crazy little brother with a bright energy about him. But he’s also a former cornerback who will deck a kick returner, a professional in all but name and one of Cal’s most talented young players with a bright future ahead of him.
Towards the end of my interview with his father, the word he’d been looking for to describe his son finally came to him. In his eyes, his youngest hasn’t changed all that much.
“I just saw Michael and he was probably three at the time. And I just laughed because that’s still Michael, that three or four year old. Still, you look at Michael at 18 and six-foot-three and 190 pounds and he’s still that lovely, lovely little boy. A lovely young man,” said his father. “That’s how I would describe Michael. Lovely.”