High school kickers take roles seriously

High school kickers take roles seriously

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High school kickers take roles seriously

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You either love them or hate them.

And the deciding factor usually comes down to the severity in which they affected your fandom.

Kickers, fair or not, are lightning rods for glory and criticism, and rarely is there a happy medium between the two.

“Kickers (can be) the most important part of the game,” Lincoln kicker Brian Crews said. “They can end the game and they start the game. They’re a vital aspect of the game.”

Fans may shake their fists at the idea one person could alter a game’s result by missing a kick when the rest of the team did all the heavy lifting to get a win. But that one moment does not take other issues into account.

And that’s especially true at the prep level.

“I work as hard as everybody else does, and we work as a team,” Leon kicker Ryan Feely said. “We’ve had a lot of leadership issues in the past, so my job has been to try to lead the team. Even though I’m just the kicker, somebody has to do it.”

Feely kicked through rusty goal posts on Leon’s practice field Monday, trying to get his leg loose after a weekend of inactivity.

He chatted up other teammates as they went through varying drills as part of their respective units. But that wasn’t always the case for the charismatic senior and son of Lions athletic director Mark Feely.

“The first year I kicked, I was hated by everybody,” Feely said. “They hated me, said, ‘You’re the kicker. You don’t do any work.’ But I know every guy on the team, I’m best friends with them now. …

“I don’t do much on the sidelines, so I’ll bring people water, stretch people when they need to be stretched, just little things like that. First couple years was rough, but after that it’s primo.”

And really, that’s all the kickers want, to be part of a team and to do their job, no matter how insignificant it might seem to some.

“Kickers have won a lot of games, that’s all I have to say about that,” Rickards kicker Saphonias Dedelbo said. “My team is supportive of me, but there are friends who (make jokes). I work just as hard as these other guys out here. I’ve earned a spot on my team.”

This past week’s slate of 15 NFL games saw 10 missed field goals, including one by Raiders kicker Sebastian Janikowski, who won back-to-back Lou Groza Awards at Florida State in the late 1990s.

There have only been two missed PATs across the professional league all year, but step down to the college ranks and there were 40 missed field goals and nine shanked PATs across Division-I games for the week.

Suffice to say, kicking in high school only further increases the likelihood of inconsistency, when many kickers are just beginning to learn the craft.

“I know I’m going to get better, I just have to keep practicing,” Godby kicker Logan Roberts said.

Over and over and over. Same approach, same timing. Proper plant foot. Flexibility to reach back, power to drive forward. Hips on target, leg following through.

Everything is exact, and all is expected to be done just after as a snapper is supposed to deliver a perfect snap to the holder, who is supposed to catch the ball and put it down in a split second.

“Kicking is a mindset,” Roberts said.

“If you’re not in the right mindset, you’re not going to do as well. It’s basically repetition. You want the same muscle movement. It’s muscle memory. If I were to miss a kick, I just have to forget about it. I have to have amnesia and move on to the next kick, or I’m not going to do as well.”

No one notices a kicker when he connects on all five of his extra points, but they notice the one miss, when something could have happened beyond the kicker’s control.

“No one looks at the holder or the snapper when you’re kicking,” Feely said. “If I miss it, it’s automatically my fault. The ball might have fallen, but it’s my fault.

“(Our holder Destin Parmer) does a great, great job. Our first snap of the season was two feet over his head, he went up and got it, and placed it down. He’s got great hands. You’ve got to have really great eyes. You’ve got to find the ball and get it down in a hurry.”

A moment like that gets missed in a box score, or up in the stands of Cox Stadium, or as reporters interview other position players.

Take note: The kickers in this area are quite good. West Gadsden junior kicker Isreal Grande has been offered a scholarship by FAMU. Crews is first in the state and second in the nation in punt average (52.5 yards per punt). He and Feely, both seniors, will wind up somewhere at the next level, where they will further hone their skills.

Roberts, a sophomore, is well on his way. He’s already made a 40-yarder this year against DeMatha Catholic on ESPN. And many kickers also serve as their team’s punter.

“You want to make every kick, but obviously mistakes happen,” said Feely, who has connected on an area-best 49-yard field goal this season.

“Somebody could block it, snap could be way over the holder’s head and you get thrown off, or you could just hit it wrong. You just have to do your best and try to kick them all the same.”

Most kickers get their start in soccer and transition over to football, where the leg swings are similar but different. The balls are much different. There is little forgiveness, and only one way to kick it.

“You have to be tough,” Dedelbo said. “I’ve missed kicks before, important kicks, and I’ve made kicks when my team really needed them. You have to be tough, not care what anyone else says, and just focus on what you’re doing.”

Selective forgetfulness is a requirement to be a kicker, as is patience and a positive attitude.

“The glory of maybe kicking that game-winning kick,” Crews said, “making that little difference that you may have made, that’s definitely exciting.”

The game-winning kick is all they dream about. For some kickers, it may never come.

Feely has a little bit of a different ending in mind to his high school career. He just has to convince his coach.

“I think my last play of my senior year is going to be a go-route,” Feely said, citing a previous Lions kicker who got to play defensive end for a play and made a sack. “Just straight up the field, because I run like a 4.5 (40-yard dash). I’m really fast from soccer, so I’m just going to run down the field.”

The only question then becomes, given the opportunity to be just like everyone else on the roster, would he catch the ball?

“Oh yeah,” he said. “I’ll do my best to take it to the house.”

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