MORGANTOWN, W.Va. -- Josh Lambert had just kicked his first winner, a 35-yard field goal in overtime to lift West Virginia to a victory Saturday against TCU, 30-27, but his first instinct was to escape, not to celebrate.
"I turned around and just didn't want to get tackled," Lambert said. He grinned. "And that's the first thing that happened."
Lambert, a soft-spoken redshirt freshman, grimaced as he stretched his leg out Tuesday. He has been nursing severe "groin and butt" soreness for the past month that has left him with tight muscles on the best days and unable to practice on the worst. In that time, however, he has managed to convert nine consecutive field goals ranging in distance between 21 to 50 yards. He is 13 for 17 this season with only one miss from inside 50 yards.
The injury came from over-kicking. Lambert has had to relearn how to warm up and pace himself to reduce stress on his core.
For the first month of this season, he said, he kicked 50 to 60 balls per practice; he has scaled back to 20.
"I'm pretty hard-headed," Lambert said.
He didn't tell the coaching staff until the injury was too painful to ignore.
"I just kept pushing through. It's my fault I am where I am. From now on, I'm going to take the approach I'm doing now so it doesn't happen again."
Lambert converted 9 of 16 field goals as a senior in Garland, Texas, but had only a handful of Division II offers and a walk-on opportunity at Texas A&M until he attended a Chris Sailer kicking camp, where he was named the 'Last Man Standing' field-goal champion.
West Virginia special teams coordinator Joe DeForest, badly in need of a kicker, contacted Sailer and was given Lambert's film. Lambert got the offer a day after national signing day and officially accepted a week later.
Saturday was a homecoming for Lambert, whose previous field goal in his home state came, rather appropriately, in another overtime game, Garland's second-round playoff contest against Mesquite Nov. 17, 2011, at what was then-called Cowboys Stadium (AT&T Stadium) in Arlington.
Lambert missed a field goal in the first half of that high school game, but later booted an extra point that forced overtime -- only to watch as the Skeeters kicker drilled the winner.
But, in the opening period of overtime Saturday, TCU settled for a 62-yard field-goal attempt, but Jaden Oberkrom's try had the distance but hooked left.
"As soon as they missed theirs," DeForest said, "I knew we had won the game."
Though Lambert had nine family members at Amon G. Carter Stadium, he only heard the 40,000 detractors who quickly realized the game rested on Lambert's right foot.
"The fans were heckling me pretty good, so I had to step away," he said.
As West Virginia's offense lined up to center the ball and call on Lambert, he hid. He turned away from the practice net, pulled his helmet over his short-cropped blonde hair and blended into the team huddle on the sideline while waiting his turn.
Moments later, he nodded to holder Michael Molinari and went through his checks: eyes down, three-step approach, finish through the kick.
(Oh, and don't get tackled.)
The kick was good.
"He's a flat-liner," DeForest said. " ... He doesn't even know how far the kick is sometimes, he just knows he's gotta kick it between the yellow sticks."
Stephen J. Nesbitt: email@example.com, 412-290-2183 and Twitter @stephenjnesbitt.