So you wanna be a football player?
So you're a 140-pound, scrawny high school runt and shy away from the slightest contact? What is that you say? The only football you've ever played is on your X-Box? And you don't know the difference between a post pattern and a dress pattern? We...
So you're a 140-pound, scrawny high school runt and shy away from the slightest contact?
What is that you say? The only football you've ever played is on your X-Box?
And you don't know the difference between a post pattern and a dress pattern?
Well, don't give up hope. Your high school team could still use you.
Find the tiniest set of shoulder pads available, a one-bar helmet and lace up your kicking shoe because you could be the next big man on campus.
Based upon the problems football teams in the Northland have kicking an oblong-shaped pigskin through those skinny, yellow uprights, a good kicker could be the difference between winning and losing.
That was the case last Thursday as Deer River and Moose Lake-Willow met in the Section 7AA championship game at Public Schools Stadium. On two occasions, unbeaten Deer River went for two-point conversions and failed in a 13-12 loss. The first miss came with the game tied at 6 and the second came with a 12-6 lead.
Kicking extra points would have won the game as the Rebels proved when Nate Zuk booted the game-winning point-after with 16 seconds left.
"Our kicking has been inconsistent,'' retiring Deer River coach Steve Ott said about his reason for going for two points.
Deer River's example is not an isolated incident. Kicking extra points -- or, God forbid, a field goal -- is often as foreign to some teams as playing on a grass field in good shape in early November. Even that could not be used as an excuse as the 7AA final was played on the artificial turf at PSS as will a pair of state quarterfinal games this weekend.
One player who knows the benefit of kicking on the fake surface is Ben Blomdahl. The 2006 Duluth Denfeld graduate played soccer at Lakeview Christian Academy before transferring at the start of the 2004-05 school year. Owner of a booming right leg, Blomdahl decided to play football for the Hunters. He made his coaches take notice when he connected on a 57-yarder in practice.
"It's really important,'' Blomdahl said of the kicking part of the game. "You can't always rely on the running backs to [score on two-point conversions]."
As a senior, Blomdahl made all six field-goal attempts and 15 extra points. The 6-foot, 180-pounder wasn't your typical fragile, one-bar kicker as he led his team in receiving and touchdowns that year. He's now using a redshirt year at Minnesota Duluth, where he's listed as both a receiver and a kicker.
But apparently most coaches don't believe in having the team's most athletic player handle the kicking chores. More often than not, coaches use kickers with numbers in the 50s, 60s and 70s -- modern-day Lou Grozas -- than their skilled position players. Esko used 300-pound lineman Tim Rahkola, also now at UMD, to handle kickoff chores and long field goals.
So why not use the team munchkin in that role? After all, kicking is more about finesse and technical aspects than it is brute power. And it gives an otherwise seldom-used player a chance to shine.
Proctor, which went through the regular season and section playoffs undefeated, is one of the few teams to follow that approach. The Rails, 11-0 entering Friday's Class AAA quarterfinal against Becker, use 5-foot-5, 162-pound junior Caleb Maki (who must have been wearing his uniform, helmet and cleats, along with a George Costanza-like wallet in his back pocket, at the time of the weigh-in) as their kicker.
And though Maki's 21-for-31 effort on extra points isn't all-world, it's a step in the right direction. Despite defending state champion Becker being regarded as a heavy favorite over Proctor, the Rails have confidence in Maki if the game comes down to a final kick.
"Right away when we saw him as a freshman, we said, `This is our kicker for the next four years,''' Proctor coach Dave Hylla said. "That's a major relief."
Hylla says Maki, who also plays running back, can kick field goals from 40 yards, longer than many teams' kickoffs.
"When you get to this point of the season you know he gives you an opportunity [to win],'' Hylla said. "It's a really big factor."
Maki's example is one more teams from the area should consider. The littlest guy on the field can become the biggest player on the team.
RICK WEEGMAN covers prep sports for the News Tribune. He can be reached at (218) 723-5302, (800) 456-8181 or e-mailed firstname.lastname@example.org