Special team woes prove costly to several area teams
By DAVID MITCHELL
Kickers have an interesting distinction.
They are the lucky players whose job is often under appreciated by fans who are unimpressed by a made field goal or touchback, but get upset when a kick sails wide left or right.
It's a job most fans consider to be a basic operation: Take a few steps, and kick the ball.
And yet, it is one of the more difficult positions for high school coaches to successfully fill.
"It's very difficult here," said Kendrick coach Jerry Dukes, who is still trying to find a consistent kicker. "We're trying to entice
our soccer players to come out and play, and right now we aren't real successful in that. Maybe eventually we will be."
Kendrick, which elected to go for two-point conversions on each of its three scores in a 21-20 loss to Marion County on Friday, has a kicker on the roster who Dukes said is gaining a lot of confidence. He's worked all summer, and the coaches are trying to get to a point where they feel comfortable in his ability to consistently make kicks.
In the meantime, however, Dukes said he is always looking for more help from the soccer program.
"We have a couple of prospects," he said. "But it's difficult, because a lot of kids don't see the importance of just coming out and kicking for a team."
Chattahoochee County has had the same difficulty.
Coach Russell Morgan, who has been with the program for two years, said there was difficulty at the position even before he arrived on the scene.
Right now, Morgan's son, Thomas, is the kicker on the team, and while he isn't a kicker by trade, the coach said he has put in hours of work to become a dependable kicker of extra points.
But Thomas is a senior, and next year the process begins all over again.
"We've got to find some way to improve the kicking," he said. "It's an important part of the game."
Morgan noted another issue with building a consistent kicking game. Whether field goals, extra points, kickoffs or punts, it requires a group of players to jell and be solid on the fundamentals of that specific part of the game.
But with the new heat policy limiting practice time, Morgan said he thinks a lot of coaches are more likely to cut time out of special teams than offense or defense.
"If you have someone who just punts or kicks, he'll have time to get his work in," Morgan said. "But your holder is probably one of your skill players, and your snapper is one of your offensive linemen. So the time for those guys to devote to special teams is short."
Some teams have had more luck than others with the kicking game.
Hardaway, for example, has had plenty of soccer players who are willing to come out for the football team.
In its first week, kicker David Scott, a returning senior, was gone for a soccer tournament, and the team was not comfortable kicking extra points early in the game, electing instead to go for two. Last Friday, however, Scott returned and was 6 of 6 on extra points in a win over Columbus.
Coach Jeff Battles said the team usually has about two kickers, but even the Hawks are having difficulty with the future.
Scott will graduate in May, and the team has no true kicker on its junior varsity team this year.
"We're already trying to recruit some guys from the soccer team for next year," Battles said. "It's definitely troubling when we don't have a guy in waiting."
Brad Dehem at Brookstone said that's one of the first things he did with his staff when he looked at the roster heading into the summer.
"We said, 'These are our seniors, these are our punters. OK, we need to find another punter,'" he said. "Even though they won't get game reps, we want to have them working, so when we need them, it won't be the first time they've picked up a ball."
Whatever the case, coaches agree in the importance of a reliable kicking game. Dehem stressed that a good kicker could act as an extra defensive weapon.
"I don't know the stats, but there's a huge drop off in successful drives for teams that have to drive the full 80 yards," he said. "If you can make a team do that, it's just another weapon."
Morgan stressed that would be a weapon he would put a lot of emphasis on in the future.
"We're going to hold kicking tryouts with the soccer team, I think," he said. "They can just come out and practice their kicking. I'm going to become best friends with the soccer coach here."
David Mitchell, 706-571-8571