For all the complexity in football, the kicker often gets overlooked unless put in a high-stakes situation.
The game, and subsequent glory of winning, can ride on his leg. There are two sides to these moments, however.
It was a harsh lesson learned last October by Jake Gutwein, then a West Lafayette junior who missed an extra point in overtime that allowed Central Catholic to win 27-26 and claim the Hoosier Conference championship.
He could have understandably dwelled. Instead, Gutwein found inspiration in a situation only a kicker can truly understand.
A YouTube clip of record-breaking Florida State kicker Dustin Hopkins showed that even the best fail with the game on the line. Hopkins missed a 2010 field goal wide right that would have won the game for the Seminoles against North Carolina. One week later, in the same situation, he split the uprights from 55 yards and Florida State beat Clemson.
“That shows you just don’t give up. People will forget about (the misses),” Gutwein said. “I just want another opportunity to prove I am a good kicker and I can help the West Lafayette football team win games.”
Gutwein has used that loss to Central Catholic as motivation.
When the next opportunity comes, no one will be more prepared.
“I know it is something that has been sitting in his mind the whole offseason,” senior lineman Peyton Truitt said. “Any time you drive past the intramural fields out by the Purdue airport, you can see Jake Gutwein out there kicking. He has worked really hard to turn himself into one of the top kickers.”
Coach Shane Fry said that was the case long before Gutwein became known as the kid who couldn’t connect in what has become biggest regular-season game in the area annually.
“Jake has been one of the hardest workers we have on our team and I’ve noticed that about dedicated kickers in the past,” Fry said. “They are kind of a different breed. I don’t know if you could possibly count up the number of balls he’s kicked.”
Gutwein can’t. What he can do is take the bag of old footballs West Lafayette’s program has loaned to him and find open fields. That he’s done.
The senior also spent the offseason traveling to kicking camps on college campuses and Kohl’s camps that allow him to see how he matches up with some of the best kickers in the country.
That loss 10 months ago could have been devastating. Instead it has become, as strange as it sounds, a welcome part of Gutwein’s athletic career.
“We wouldn’t be better without our rivals,” he said. “You play to beat somebody and I’ve been working to be the best I can be.”
West Lafayette Red Devils
Head coach: Shane Fry (12-2 in second season)
2013 results: 12-2 (5-1 Hoosier Conference), defeated Yorktown 54-41 to win sectional championship, defeated Fort Wayne Concordia 25-21 in regional, lost to Andrean 52-7 in semistate
Class: 3A, Sectional 28 (Blackford, Delta, Eastbrook, Mississinewa, Northwestern, Wester, Yorktown)
Sectional championships: 10 (1984, ’86, ’87, ’90, ’91, ’93, 2009-11, ’13)
Regional championships: 7 (1984, ’86, ’90, ’93, 2009, ’11, ’13)
Semistate championships: 3 (1984, ’93, 2009)
State championships: 1993 (2A), 2009 (3A)
Home field: Gordon Straley Field, Cumberland Avenue
Returning starters: 6/7
Offense: Spread Defense: 3-4
Rushing: Travis Rolle (5-7, 165, jr., RB) 38-128 yards
Passing: Mikey Kidwell (5-7, 148, so.) 5-11, 40 yards
Receiving: Rolle 47-616 yards, 9 TD
Tackles: Spencer Ronchetto (5-7, 171, jr., WR/DB) 83
Interceptions: Kyle Turner (6-4, 188, sr., WR/DB) 4
Others to watch: Peyton Truitt (6-5, 289, sr., OL); Casey Crosser (5-11, 274, sr., DL) 27 tackles; Peter Vasili (5-11, 174, sr., WR/DB) 60 tackles; Connor Chambers (6-2, 228, sr., OL); Jake Gutwein (6-0, 192, sr., K/P) 49-59 PAT, 3-8 FG, 35 long, 7 touchbacks; Dylan Trent (6-2, 232, jr., OL/DL); Nate Merriott (6-0, 200, jr., LB) 63 tackles, 2 sacks; Carter Bodi (6-5, 200, jr., LB); Jack Folkers (5-10, 167, jr., WR/DB); Jonah Williams (6-1, 202, so., WR/LB)
Outlook: A strong contingent returns, led by all-state lineman Truitt, who verbally committed to Miami (Ohio). However, the Red Devils are without the services of a record-breaking duo behind center. Quarterback Parker Ronchetto is now playing for St. Francis and running back Maurice Woodard, an Indiana All-Star, is now at Marian.
West Side’s two losses last season came against Central Catholic in overtime and to 3A state champion Andrean in the semistate. The Red Devils should make a push for Hoosier Conference and sectional titles again but will have to fill gaps by departed impact makers at skill positions. Turner caught 31 passes for 585 yards and six touchdowns last season, numbers that could increase with the graduation of speedster Brandon Watt.