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Work is needed for football kicking games

Early emphasis sometimes missing

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When Travis Nixon sent out Rob Cheek, the decision was more about confidence than any desperation.

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Cross Creek's Rob Cheek is one of the top place-kickers in the area. The Razorback, who aspired to be a kicker, connected on a 43-yard field goal this year.  SARA CALDWELL/STAFF
SARA CALDWELL/STAFF
Cross Creek's Rob Cheek is one of the top place-kickers in the area. The Razorback, who aspired to be a kicker, connected on a 43-yard field goal this year.

The Cross Creek football coach knew his kicker could make it; so did Cheek.

“I was just like, ‘OK, here we go,’ ” Cheek said.

Cheek – head down, ready to follow through – followed Westside’s Keaton Craw’s field goal with his 43-yard, second-overtime kick during the Aug. 31 game.

“I’m trying to get him to the point where, ‘Look, if we get to any team’s 35, we can score from there,’ ” Nixon said. “This guy had a goal — he wanted to be the kicker. And he’s on the right track.”

Though Cross Creek lost in three overtimes, the senior’s extend-the-game kick was clutch and somewhat rare. For some Augusta schools, there are kicking and punting struggles — though not for a lack of effort in practice.

When teams don’t have dependable kicking games, they are forced to sometimes abandon field-goal opportunities for fourth-down attempts or even forget about attempting extra points.

But Laney saw the opposite end against Westminster of Atlanta this past Friday. Westminster’s Harrison Butker, a Georgia Tech commit, made three field goals, including a 52-yarder, in the 15-12 Westminster win. Along with those field goals, all of his kickoffs looked about the same: they sailed through the end zone. One booted ball even threatened to hit the concession stand.

“You look at him in awe just like you would a Herschel Walker or a Bo Jackson,” Laney coach Lemuel Lackey said. “It’s, ‘Wow, this is an exceptional talent.’ ”

On the other side, when Laney marched to about the Westminster 17-yard line, down three in the final moments, it wasn’t close enough to try a field goal.

Lackey is aware that while the players do their best in practice, he thinks there has to be a greater emphasis on kicking at younger ages, especially in rec ball. He said when there are kicks in rec ball, usually one of the most athletic players handles it. But as those players get older, it doesn’t make sense to have them dedicate most of their time to kicking when they can focus on making an impact in so many other areas.

Instead, to have success, Lackey thinks it’s better to find a player who, in a perfect world, has had extensive training and goes to camps and spends all his practice time kicking.

Elsewhere, some schools have gone to their established soccer teams to find a kicker.

Kicking a football isn’t the same as kicking a soccer ball — just look at the shapes — but repetition and experience using the leg makes it easier to transition.

Richmond Academy has had success with soccer players taking over kicking duties on the football team. The school’s soccer program, with its back-to-back state titles in 2004 and 2005, is one of the area’s best.

Back in 2007, Eric Osteen made a 57-yard field goal for coach Chris Hughes, who also used to coach the soccer team.

Now Richmond Academy has senior kicker Joseph Ardrey, a star on the soccer squad, with a 10th grader ready to assume the role next season.

Hughes said he’s had success because he’s had kickers who play high-level club or high school soccer. Not only does that mean his players are used to kicking in pressure situations, but the leg strength and flexibility needed to succeed in soccer is also required for football.

“Our kickers know if we cross the 50, we expect three points out of it,” Hughes said.

In South Carolina, Silver Bluff’s Pedro Zambrano is in his third year as the team’s starting kicker.

Zambrano, a soccer player, heard the kicker spot was open and wanted to try something new. He liked it and kept with it.

The senior now has kicking down to a routine — a science; He times the ball’s progress on the snap with his own movement, building up in speed as it get closer.

On kickoffs, his ability to place the ball is a weapon.

“He’s consistently worked at it,” Silver Bluff coach Al Lown said. “I tell everybody, we can do without about anybody out here except Pedro. That’s the truth. If somebody goes down, we replace him. But we can’t replace Pedro.”


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