Josh Lambo was always a football player, even if the San Diego Chargers kicker never put on pads and a helmet before he was in college. The one-time professional goalkeeper was once in MLS until his soccer career took a sudden and unexpected turn.
A turn that led him to major college football and eventually, the NFL.
Once a member of the U-17 and U-20 national soccer team, Lambo’s career as a goalkeeper was bright. He began playing soccer at 4 years old, and at 18 years old he was drafted by FC Dallas. Among his teammates at the international level was Brad Guzan, now considered one of the best goalkeepers in the English Premier League and a member of the United States national team. Lambo was also on a track to be one of the next great American goalkeepers.
His career prior to MLS reflected his abilities as a goalkeeper. He joined the residency program for the United States youth national team in his mid-teens. New York Red Bulls left back Anthony Wallace remembers meeting him at the program and the two players would become teammates later on in MLS.
“I remember first meeting him and being like, ‘Oh wow. How old are you?’ Because he was so big,” Wallace said. “He’s the same size as he is now.”
And of course, Wallace said “Lambo always had a big leg.”
Still, Lambo did not play a single MLS match during his first few seasons in the league. He was loaned out to a minor league team to get playing experience. But FC Dallas cut him in 2011.
Other MLS teams and a couple teams in the NASL, a second-division league, wanted to take a look at him. Lambo wanted a college education though. And he knew that the best way to do that would be to use his aforementioned big leg and try to get a college scholarship as a kicker.
So at the advice of his brother, a college soccer player at Wisconsin, he reached out to kicking guru Taylor Mehlhaff about the transition from kicking a round ball to an oblong one. Mehlhaff was a kicker at Wisconsin and a sixth-round pick in the 2008 NFL Draft; when Lambo contacted him he was looking to get back into the league and was doing kicking camps and clinics.
So Mehlhaff invited Lambo down to New Orleans for a couple days of kicking.
“Just watching him hit the first few kicks, it was pretty evident that he had a big leg. You can tell a lot about a kicker in just a couple kicks,” Mehlhaff told Yahoo Sports. “I could see he had some major talent and the potential to be special. He was also very raw. He had just gone out and kicked by himself a handful of times before coming to New Orleans, so he was literally starting from scratch.”
There were technique changes, and the adjustment of kicking off a tee was a part of his transition. Follow-through was another adjustment.
He worked on the “lazy” swing of a soccer kick, where trajectory and spin are more important than, say, trying to launch a kick off. Mehlhaff was impressed with Lambo immediately and saw almost instant gains.
Lambo ended up at Texas A&M and by his third year in College Station, he was on a scholarship. Quite a meteoric rise for someone who grew up playing touch football with his friends but that was it. When asked if he played organized football at any level growing up, Lambo said, “I never did.”
“It was something I didn’t do. The ‘Punt, Pass and Kick’ competition, I actually won the national competition when I was 11,” Lambo said. “I asked my parents if I could play and they said no.”
When he decided to give up being a goalkeeper to pursue a kicking career in college, he did seek out counsel from his parents but ultimately it was his own decision. He knew what he wanted and he set down that path.
Now Lambo is in the NFL, an undrafted rookie who made the Chargers and is putting together a very solid rookie season. The 24-year old has made 13-of-15 field goal attempts this year.
Not too bad for a rookie, not to mention one who has only been kicking a football for a couple of years.
Even though he is an NFL kicker with a salary that dwarfs what he made with FC Dallas, Lambo still remains a fan of what the rest of the world calls “The Beautiful Game.”
“Soccer is my passion, soccer is my heart, I try to keep up with the game as much as I can. I find myself juggling the football in my downtime in practice and still watch as much soccer as I can,” Lambo said.
“Football is absolutely growing on me and I’m learning to really love this game.”
And those who saw him along this journey from youth national team and a young soccer star to transitioning to be a kicker think that Lambo has a bright future ahead of him. Mehlhaff and Lambo continue to train together during the offseason and work on refining Lambo’s kicking game that is developing and growing.
For his old friends still in the soccer world, such as his former FC Dallas teammate Wallace, there’s pride in their former futbol teammate.
“Anything he wants to do, he can do. I’m not surprised by this at all,” Wallace said with a huge smile on his face. “I don’t play fantasy football but if I did, Lambo would be on my team.”
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