Panthers have leg up

Published 9:15 pm Wednesday, August 20, 2008

The sport is called football, but, at the high school level, the foot and the ball don’t usually mix very well.

Sure, many larger and some smaller schools have a player or players on the team that focus solely on kicking the ball. Most teams aren’t so lucky. Your typical punter or placekicker is selected through a process that isn’t exactly scientific. After what was supposed to be an unnamed team’s two options at kicker missed field goal attempts last week, the coach reopened competition for the job.

For more pictures from Jemison’s practice, visit our Spotted site

“Who thinks they can kick?,” this coach asked. The fourth guy in line made a few in a row, and the team had its kicker – for the day. Teams can hold such tryouts weekly or even daily, depending on the level of inconsistency.

It may seem surprising that a position such as kicker, which could conceivably account for 10 or more points in any given game and help determine field position, is approached so haphazardly. But that’s the nature of the game at this level.

“Basically, you just can’t afford time to work on it more,” Jemison coach Brad Abbott said about the difficulty of trying to teach players proper kicking technique.

Abbott is not the unnamed coach mentioned above. Instead, Abbott this season might be one the lucky coaches, those that can boast the threat to score the occasional 3-pointer.

Junior Justin Nemec, a lineman by trade, could Jemison’s first true kicker of Abbott’s four-year tenure at the school.

“We’ve tried field goals before, but it was a shot in the dark,” Abbott said. “I was more surprised if it went in than if it didn’t. Maybe this year we can be more consistent.”

Nemec gained some experience kicking the ball by handling kickoff duties for the B-team. He’ll gain even more experience during practice, where an emphasis is placed on special teams. Abbott estimated the Panthers spend 20 percent of a typical practice on specials teams play, 30 percent on Wednesdays and 80 percent on Thursdays.

Nemec – and junior Patrick Sims, who will punt – will join a group of Jemison special teamers that much is expected of. Senior linebacker Christian Briscoe averaged about 18 yards per punt return last season, and Jamie McKenzie and Merrell Morrow combined to average about 35 yards per kick return.

The Panthers will put their special teams, and the rest of the team, on display at 7 p.m. Friday as Verbena visits for a preseason exhibition game.