High School Kickers
Have Come A Long Way
In the next few weeks, I will talk to a lot of high school football coaches about their team’s prospects for 2010. Some will express concern about their squad’s youth and inexperience. Others will admit they’re worried about a lack of depth at certain positions. All will be cautiously optimistic about the upcoming season.
Very few will be concerned about not having a quality placekicker.
As much as high school football has evolved since the 1970s, the one area that may have developed the most is the art of placekicking. When I was in high school, if a team had a kicker that could consistently convert points-after-touchdowns, it was fortunate. If he could kick a field goal of any distance, that was icing on the cake.
And there were no such things as kicking “specialists.” The typical high school kicker in the 1970s almost always played another position, usually because he was one of the best athletes on the team. Most people don’t realize that Auburn University Heisman Trophy winner Vincent “Bo” Jackson kicked for his McAdory team in high school.
Often in that time, a high school coach would come into fall practice with no idea who his kicker would be and invite tryouts from members of the general student body. The vast majority of those tryouts, however, failed to produce a first-rate kicker, so the coach would have to “draft” one of his better players into kicking duties.
Another problem with high school kicking in those days was that many kickers had never put their toes on a football until reaching the tenth grade. I once knew a high school coach in this area who was constantly irritated with the coach at his middle school feeder, because he never developed a kicker. The feeder school team simply went for a two point conversion every time it scored a touchdown – meaning the high school coach had to start from scratch with a new kicker every two or three years.
Those scenarios sound like the dinosaur days compared to today’s emphasis on specialization. Some schools even have two placekickers: one for extra points and short field goals, the other for kickoffs and long field goals.
In the summer months, colleges and high schools host kicking camps in order to give aspiring young kickers a chance to learn and hone their skills – and college coaches use them to get an early look at prospects for their own programs.
The development of kickers in Alabama over the past 30 years is mainly attributable to two things – and both are related to a sport that high school football coaches used to love to hate: soccer.
First, while soccer-style kickers – who connect with the ball with their insteps instead of their toes – became commonplace in the National Football League and in college football in the 1970s, it really wasn’t until the 1980s that they caught on at the high school level. Now, it’s almost impossible to find a program that still utilizes a traditional, straight-on kicker.
The conventional wisdom is that a soccer-style kicker is more accurate because a larger part of his foot impacts the ball. I’ve never seen any statistics to verify that theory, but there’s no question that today’s specialists kick for better accuracy and more distance than their counterparts from decades ago. So who’s going to argue the point? Soccer-style kicking is here to stay.
Also, the widespread popularity of soccer at the youth league level has translated into better kickers in football. As noted before, there was a time when high school football kickers had never put their feet on a ball until they went out for the varsity team. Now, preschool kids are well-trained on kicking soccer balls even before they can ride a bicycle. While many of them continue with soccer, others make the relatively easy transition to football. Some, in fact, will kick for their school’s football team in the fall and play soccer in the spring.
Of course, the third reason that kickers have come so far is money – as in scholarship money. While many major colleges rarely sign a kicker right out of high school to a scholarship, they frequently invite good kickers to walk-on with the chance of earning a grant-in-aid later. So a young man with good kicking skills has the opportunity – if he’s good enough – to earn a free education.
Looking back, it’s amazing that coaches from earlier time periods seemed to take placekicking so lightly. Having a great kicker – then and now – can make a huge difference. Remember Hoover’s state championship run in 2009, when Larsen Real’s end-of-the-game field goals gave the Bucs key victories over Camden County, Ga., and archrival Spain Park.
As in the case of so much else about the game, high school football kicking has come a long way the last few decades. It’s ironic that the game that the rest of the world calls football – soccer – may be the biggest reason for it.