Usually, Kaare Vedvik feels excited before a game. Before last night's preseason opener, he didn't know how to feel.
"Excited in a happy way? Excited in a serious way?" Vedvik said. "I didn't know. I was just going everywhere."
Vedvik went to Team Chaplain Johnny Shelton for a few words. He checked his phone and found lots of reassuring messages from family members and friends. After that, he mentally "locked in."
It's been a long year for Vedvik after he was brutally assaulted, dropped in East Baltimore and rushed to shock trauma with serious head and facial injuries.
But on Thursday night at M&T Bank Stadium, Vedvik proved that he's back to being himself – a strong-legged, confident kicker who deserves a spot on an NFL roster.
Vedvik boomed field goals from 55, 45, 29 and 26 yards out, and uncoiled two booming punts for an average of 55.5 yards, in the Ravens' win over the Jacksonville Jaguars. Vedvik was one of the game's biggest standouts, and surely caught the attention of kicker-needy teams around the league.
"A lot more emotional than I thought it was going to be," Vedvik said. "A lot of anticipation. It's been a long year building up to come back to this moment again. I love football. I love sports. Getting back on the field, it's a different feeling."
Vedvik's story is incredible. The native Norwegian got interested in football watching movies, then started to play when he came to the United States – in the middle of nowhere Kansas – as a high school foreign exchange student.
The former soccer player was really good at striking a football, and he got obsessed with it. So he went about learning more on YouTube and went to as many kicking camps as he could to improve and gain the attention of college scouts. Eventually, a 70-yard field goal in one of those camps put him on the map.
Vedvik came back to the States when Marshall offered him a scholarship. He was made a punter in his sophomore year, but took over punting and kicking duties as a senior when their kicker got hurt. His huge leg got the Ravens' attention and they brought him in as an undrafted rookie last year.
Vedvik kicked extremely well in last year's preseason, going 8-of-9 on his field-goal attempts while also posting a 46.8 gross average on 19 punts. But with Justin Tucker in place, there was (and still isn't) room for Vedvik on the Ravens' roster.
It looked like he could be a prime trade candidate, but then tragedy struck. On the night before final cuts were set to be made, the time when another team would presumably call for his services, Vedvik went out for some drinks in Fells Point with teammates. When they left to go home, he stayed out.
Early Saturday morning on Sept. 1, 2018, Vedvik was jumped and brutally assaulted. He suffered head and significant facial injuries. His teeth were knocked in. The attackers dropped him in East Baltimore, where he was found at about 4 a.m. Vedvik was rushed to Shock Trauma and spent the next five days in the hospital.
"It was kind of surreal at first. It's one thing hearing stories like that, but when it happens to you, it takes time to really sink in," Vedvik said. "Eventually it did, and I just had to face it. What happened happened. As a person, I had to grow from it, learn from it and hopefully be a better person for it."
The Ravens placed Vedvik on the reserve non-football injury list, meaning he would miss the entire season. Suddenly, what looked to be the start of a budding career was put on hold.
So what were his emotions like Thursday night when he made his return to M&T Bank Stadium?
"How do you describe that?" Vedvik said. "You think your life is supposed to go a certain way. You think you have a certain amount of control. What happened last year, you kind of lose that sense. It had a huge impact on me – more than I would have thought it would have had. This year has been about me being close to the people close to me."
The father of the host family that took Vedvik in when he was a high-schooler rushed from Kansas to Baltimore to be by his side and aid in his recovery. Other friends, and the Ravens organization, stepped up to help. But a lot of the recovery was going to center on Vedvik's inner drive to get back.
Vedvik has always been someone who took to writing down his goals. During his sophomore year of college, he told himself that he would play in the NFL. This wasn't going to stop him. He re-wrote his goals – this time in more step-by-step detail – in his diary. He mapped out his return.
Before the assault, his days were filled with practice and meetings grooming him to be a better kicker. After the assault, he had facial surgeries and about a month-and-a-half of physical recovery. Once he was cleared to kick again, his days were still done by about 10 a.m. He had a lot more free time, but he couldn't get complacent and rusty.
"That's one thing – I'm determined. When I set myself a goal, I want to achieve it," Vedvik said. "That was a year for me to truly focus on self-discipline, keep promises to myself to get back here. This is where I belong. That's my dream and my goal, and anything that didn't fit into my dreams and goals, it wasn't going to be in my life."
Vedvik's path to a job in the NFL hasn't changed. He's extremely thankful to the Ravens and his teammates for their support, but he's still not going to be Baltimore's kicker – especially after Tucker signed a record-setting four-year contract extension this offseason. He needs to kick well enough to interest other teams, and he certainly got off to a good start Thursday night.
"So happy for him," Head Coach John Harbaugh said. "Not surprised. He was so confident. He was really confident before the game when I talked to him. He believed he was going to make them all, and he did it. So, hats off to him."
"This game was proving to myself that I'm still me," Vedvik said. "I still have my swagger. I can still go out there and be who I am. I know what I can do here."
After a horrific miss ousted the Chicago Bears from the playoffs last year, they have been searching for an answer. On Thursday night, their possible solution, Eddy Pineiro, missed a 48-yard attempt. The Jets' Chandler Catanzaro missed two extra points in his preseason debut.
The Ravens have a history of grooming kickers who end up succeeding elsewhere. Just look at the Saints' Wil Lutz, Carolina's Graham Gano and Buffalo's Steven Hauschka.
In March, Harbaugh said the goal was for Vedvik to kick well enough to trade him. So who might pull the trigger?
"I don't really ever think about that," Vedvik said. "I'm focused on playing the game. That's it. Teams that are interested, they can talk to Coach [Harbaugh], the head honcho. They make that happen. I'm just going to play the game."