High school kickers polish their game, and significance, to new heights
This is why Bjorn Charles walked away from soccer, one year after being named a team captain.
Friday was homecoming and struggling Rogers was making a comeback. The Royals had scored late in the game, cutting the deficit to two points, 9-7.
After a sucessful onside kick, the Rogers offense stalled on the Chisago Lakes 23-yard-line with 35 seconds left in the game. Charles trotted onto the field and waited patiently while the opposing coach called a time out. Then he booted a 40-yard field goal that gave the Royals a 10-9, come-from-behind victory.
I get more nervous taking a penalty kick in soccer because youre supposed to make it, said Charles, a senior in his third year kicking for the Royals. This was not a gimme. But as soon as it left my foot, I said Yeah, thats a good kick.andthinsp;
Fans went wild. The Royals were in the win column for the first time this season. And Charles was a hero.
Definitely the best moment on any sports field Ive ever had, he said.
It wasnt that long ago that kicking was an afterthought to many high school football coaches. In a game of blocking and tackling and running, a quality kicker was a luxury. All that was needed was someone who could kick off and reliably make an extra point. For most teams, field goals were a rarity.
Most, but not all.
Chris Husby was a kicker at Armstrong in the late 1990s.After a stint as a punter at the University of St. Thomas and failed attempts to catch on with an NFL team, Husby saw a niche to fill.
Like many kickers two decades ago, Husby was largely self-taught. I went to maybe two, three camps, he said. I used to drive six hours to meet with my punting coach in Wisconsin.
I wanted to get into coaching and I realized the easiest way for me was special teams. So I started training kickers and punters, to give back the things that I learned late in my career.
For the last 10 years, Husby has been running the Special Teams Football Academy, which deals solely in training kickers, punters and long-snappers. The result? This is as deep a year as Ive ever seen for kickers and punters, Husby said. And weve got a huge junior class coming up.
With the growth in the number of quality kickers, the mindset of coaches has changed.
Once youve had a good kicker, most coaches come to see how important it is, Husby said.
I love hitting bombs
On a recent murky Sunday evening, a dozen young men gathered on a middle school football field in Maple Grove, seeking to further their expertise at using their legs to drive a football. The goal is to follow in the Husby-trained footsteps of players like Mac Brown, the St. Thomas Academy kicker who is now the starting punter at Ole Miss, or Patrick LeCorre, who kicked at Edina and is now kicking at Ball State.
Among them is St. Francis junior Hunter Dustman, whose powerful leg and dedication to kicking have made him the top kicking prospect in the state. Dustman fronts a strong junior class that includes two other Husby disciples Louis Hyde at Benilde-St. Margarets and Nathan Whiting at Rosemount.
It doesnt take long to see why Dustman draws raves. The ball explodes off his foot, elevates quickly and hangs in the air much longer than physics suggests it should.
My name for him is Man-Child,andthinsp; Husby said. He can do everything well.
Like many kickers, Dustman got his start playing soccer. By the fifth grade, however, Dustman realized he loved kicking a football much better.
My older brother was a kicker for St. Francis, Dustman recalled. One day, I tried it and kicked one from 35 yards. My heart just exploded out of my chest when I made it. That was it. I fell in love with it.
In a trend that appears to be growing, Dustman also gave up soccer, which he played for 13 years, to focus on kicking a football.
Dustman kicked a 51-yard field goal for the Saints last year still his favorite memory but says hes come to adore punting even more.
I love hitting bombs, said Dustman, who has an offer from the University of North Dakota and is set to visit Wisconsin. I love flipping the field and pinning the other team inside their 20.
Wayzata senior Reid Sanders is another former soccer player who gave it up for football, despite far fewer opportunities to actually kick a ball.
Football is more my style, Sanders said. I feel more involved. Theres something about football that makes me excited about it.
When Sanders started with Husby in seventh grade, his kicking skills were rudimentary, his punting talents minimal. Five years later, his punts are booming.
I used to hate punting, Sanders said. The first time I tried it, it went like 15 yards. Now I can punt it 50, 55 yards.
College teams have noticed. South Dakota State University is among the schools to inquire about him.
Football coaches frequently mine the rosters of soccer teams for kickers. While some high-profile kickers like Charles, Dustman and Sanders have migrated permanently, others such as Blaines Ben Greenberg and Buffalos Parker Vajda moonlight for the football team.
Theo Crosby is a defender for the Blake soccer team who also kicks for the undefeated SMB Wolfpack. He divides his loyalties equally, but readily admits that he gets a bigger charge out of kicking a football.
Football, for sure, he said. Its pretty fun. And I play defense in soccer, so I dont score many goals.
All of them credit Husbys academy for their skill development.
I went in a soccer player and came out a kicker, Charles said.