Jerry Nunez was initiated as an official member of the Naples defense early during his freshman season in 2012. Brian Donnelly, the Golden Eagles middle linebacker at the time, told the kicker it was important for him to set the tone for the celebrated unit without playing a single snap.
Nunez, now a senior, has been booming kickoffs out of Staver Field ever since, setting opposing offenses up with an 80-yard trek to the end zone most possessions.
It’s not a question of if he’ll impact Naples’ Region 6A-3 final matchup with undefeated Charlotte. It’s a matter of how.
“I don’t know how I’ll do it,” said Nunez. “But I do know that I’m going to be asked to do something in this game that will have a big effect on the game.”
With Naples (10-1) blowing teams out by an average of more than 40 points a game this season, he hasn’t faced many pressure-packed situations with the game on the line. Last week, however, he proved he could come through in the clutch with three field goals in an 11-point win over Fort Myers, which gave the Golden Eagles an opportunity to play for their fourth state semifinal berth.
Such a big stage hasn’t bothered him since his first start against Immokalee in the 2012 season opener.
“I knew they were chip shots and treated them that way,” Nunez said. “I don’t even have to warm for kicks like that. I just do what I do. It’s smooth and I let it happen.
The field goals were from 25, 23 and 31 yards, but coach Bill Kramer trusts Nunez from much farther out.
“We’ve seen him boot 65 yarders in practice. He hasn’t made one in a game yet,” Kramer said. “I’d have no problem with getting to the (opponent’s) 48-yard line and sending him out there. And I’d expect him to make it.”
If it’s not a game-tying or go-ahead kick, Charlotte may feel Nunez’s presence most on kickoffs. He’s sent 61 kicks for touchbacks this season.
Plenty of players like cornerback Tyler Byrd or safety Chris Riley receive credit for making up the fourth-ranked scoring defense in Class 6A.
Nunez’s value can be quantified by an opposing offense’s starting field position.
The Tarpons average nearly 18 yards per kickoff return. If an average kickoff is caught at the 10- or 11-yard line, Nunez could end up saving the Golden Eagles defense close to 10 yards in field position on each Charlotte possession.
“He’s a big part of setting up long fields,” Kramer said. “He has the ability to give return guys, who are usually the teams’ best players, one less rep and that’s huge.”
Nunez’s college recruitment has been a frustrating one. As kickers ranked right below and above him commit to Division-I schools in the Power-5 conferences, he has yet to receive a D-I offer.
A number of schools have inquired about his interest in walking on. However, if Nunez has learned anything during the process, it’s if you’re good at something, never do it for free.
“I shouldn’t struggle with the recruiting process, but it’s hard,” Nunez said. “Coach Kramer always tells me to worry about playing high school football and the rest will come. I trust him.”
Having a impact in Friday’s game and after could go a long way in proving Kramer right.