Kyle Bambard has been his team’s kicker since he was in the fifth grade. So he understands how one approaches the art of kicking a football through the uprights, no matter the distance.
“Every kick is the same kick,” he said. “That is the mind-set you have to have as a kicker.”
He also knows kicking can win or lose games, so he has the essence of kicking boiled down to four words:
“It’s hero or zero.”
Bambard has been the hero at Walled Lake Western since he booted a 47-yard field goal with 1.8 seconds left to force overtime in the Division 2 semifinals against Lowell when he was a sophomore.
“That’s probably the biggest kick I’ve had so far,” he said. “I remember their coach called a time-out. Honestly, I prefer that. Maybe two time-outs get annoying. It gave me 30 seconds or so to line up the kick, find my aiming spot, and I put it home.”
The field goal put Bambard on the state map as far as kickers in the Class of 2014 go, but the euphoric moment didn’t last long because Western lost the game in overtime.
A year ago Bambard had a career-best 52-yarder in a playoff loss to Birmingham Brother Rice, the eventual state champion.
The attempt came in the first quarter when Rice led only 7-2.
“It was intense,” he recalled. “Every kick is the same, but it’s just the stage that it’s set on. Brother Rice is coming off a state championship, trying to make another run, and here we are with two losses in the regular season trying to show them what we’ve got. So this was my time and our team’s time to show them we’re here for real.”
Bambard is for real in more ways than just one.
Not only is he the state’s top kicker, but Bambard is also Western’s starting quarterback, the only spot the youngster has player, other than kicker and punter, since he began playing in the third grade for the Walled Lake Braves youth team.
“Basically I’d say to start off it was simply who could memorize the plays at quarterback,” he said, “and I suppose I was one of the few that could do it.”
A 3.396 GPA student, Bambard can memorize anything you want and he proved early in his career that he was a special talent. As a freshman he started at quarterback for the junior varsity.
“He took a team that was 5-4 as freshmen to a group of kids that ended up going 9-0, just because he could throw the ball and run,” said Western varsity coach Mike Zdebski. “There was a lot of good athletes in that sophomore class that just graduated last year, but you add a kid like him in there and it changed everything.”
Bambard is a difference-maker at quarterback, throwing for more than 2,500 yards as a junior. He is a threat running or passing and defenses struggle containing him.
He began this season in grand fashion last week by completing 6 of 14 passes for 116 yards, running seven times for 168 yards and having a hand in four touchdowns. He also added field goals of 28 and 29 yards in a 41-0 victory over Bay City Western.
Despite the impressive job he does at quarterback, Bambard’s future is in kicking and punting. Kohl’s Professional Camps ranks him the country’s ninth-best kicker and 32nd-best punter.
Chris Sailer Kicking ranks him No. 17 in kicking and 28th in punting. In Bambard’s profile, Sailer wrote: “Big time Division I prospect. OFFER NOW!!”
Colleges usually don’t offer kickers scholarships early in the recruiting calendar. And colleges don’t offer a kicker a scholarship each year. If you sign a kicker one year you might not offer another one a scholarship for three years.
Making Bambard’s predicament is more complicated because of is his size. He is listed at 5-feet-9.
“On a good day,” Bambard said, with a laugh.
These days college coaches look at athletes who can pass the eye test and at 5-9 — or 5-8 — Bambard doesn’t pass that test.
“I’ve heard that a lot,” he said. “It wasn’t so much a big deal in the youth league, but coming through high school. I definitely had my growth spurt in middle school and I’ve stayed the same height for quite some time.”
But put a football on the ground and let him kick and he passes that test with flying colors.
That’s why Bambard turned his summer into a road show, attending kicking camps at 15 colleges across the country. At each camp at places like LSU, Texas A&M, Oklahoma, North Carolina State and Miami (Fla.) he was singled out as one of the top kickers.
And don’t forget, those trips were not inexpensive. His parents — Kelly and Eric — footed the bill for all of it.
“I can’t tell you how many times I’ve thanked them,” Bambard said. “But they know that it’s my dream to play at the next level, and I’m lucky enough to have parents willing to give me the opportunities.”
The decision to allow their son to travel the country was a no-brainer for his parents. When your kid works that hard at something it is impossible to tell him no.
“I’ve never seen a kid so dedicated to his craft,” said his father, who played cornerback at Western. “I know some of that comes off sounding like a dad, but people don’t see the thousands of hours he spends at it. When the field is full of snow or in the middle of the winter he’s kicking in our garage into a net. He’s been doing this — all self-motivated — ever since he’s decided he wanted to kick in college.”
That is why his father finds it frustrating when college coaches focus more on his son’s height than on what he has accomplished.
“If you just look at his height then you kind of miss what kind of athlete he is,” Eric Bambard said. “I kind of find it humorous they look for these big, tall punters when he’s beaten these kids in camp. Ultimately, if something goes wrong back there I would wager having him back there is better than just about anyone else I can think of.”
Bambard’s size also comes in to play at quarterback and he’s trying to see over offensive linemen like 6-5, 300-pound Alex Joss and 6-3, 290-pound Leon Richardson.
That is why he is such a fan of New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees, who is only 6 feet.
“I’ve taken some time to learn from Drew Brees, one of the shortest quarterbacks in the NFL, and learn what I can from him,” Bambard said. “I’ve watched interviews on him when he’s talked about his height and he talks about finding windows and trusting his wide receivers and knowing where they’re going to be on each and every play and that’s what I try to do.”
In a sense, Bambard could be the only quarterback in the state who benefits from a failed third-down conversion in enemy territory.
“On third down, as a quarterback, we’ve got to get the first down,” he said. “But on an incomplete pass or the run gets stuffed, now it’s an opportunity as a kicker to show them what I’ve got. I’ll take a few drive swings just a couple of yards back and get in that mind-set that it’s my time to shine as a kicker.”
After all, it’s hero or zero.
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