Kicking a mental skill as much as a physical one

It can be tough to come back from a miss

Danny Meikel holds for Prairie Ridge kicker Chris Eschweiler in the first quarter of the Class 6A playoff game in Rockford Saturday, Nov. 16, 2013. Eschweiler's feild goal gave the Wolves their first score of the game.
Danny Meikel holds for Prairie Ridge kicker Chris Eschweiler in the first quarter of the Class 6A playoff game in Rockford Saturday, Nov. 16, 2013. Eschweiler's feild goal gave the Wolves their first score of the game.

This is another installment of our Football 101 series heading into the start of the fall high school football practice. Find all the stories, as they appear, along with our Football 101 video series with coaches from Huntley, Marian Central and Johnsburg here.

It takes more than just a strong and accurate leg to be a successful placekicker.

Take Prairie Ridge’s Chris Eschweiler, for example.

Eschweiler’s extra point following a 60-yard drive in the final two minutes against Marmion last November put the finishing touches on a dramatic, come-from-behind 21-20 victory and sent the Wolves to the Class 6A state quarterfinals.

Without that kick, Prairie Ridge would not have advanced.

The next week, Eschweiler narrowly missed a 27-yard field goal attempt in the driving wind against Boylan in the third quarter. Prairie Ridge was shut out in the second half and went on to lose that game, 21-17, ending the Wolves season.

It’s not something Eschweiler thinks a lot about.

“When you miss a kick by a couple of inches, you just have to forget about it because you know you can drill the next one,” said Eschweiler, who converted 37 of 40 PAT attempts (92.5 percent) last season. “You have to have a short memory as a kicker. Even if you make one, you need to move on and focus on the next one.”

The game-to-game mentality of a kicker is important for confidence, but the physical act of making a field goal does not fall solely on the kicker.

A lot can go wrong on a kick, whether it’s a 27-yard attempt in a big spot or a “simple” point after touchdown (PAT). The long snapper must deliver a fast and accurate snap to the holder; the holder has to receive and position the ball in the proper lane for the kicker; and the kicker must properly set up and follow through for maximum power and distance.

One small breakdown between the snapper, holder or kicker can result in a combination of missed points, a turnover and loss of field position. Sometimes, it’s the difference between a win and a loss.

“You can have a bad snap, a bad hold or the kicker can take a bad approach,” Cary-Grove special teams coach Phil Raffaelli said. “It all starts with having a good center that can get the ball to the holder quickly and accurately. Your holder must have good hands and your kicker has to be able to trust him.”

Without proper protection and blocking, however, the kick will always fail.

In addition, there are natural elements that come into play, including the rain, wind and field conditions. Above all, the most important aspect of kicking is the timing. That comes with repetitions in practice. Bad timing can lead to a scramble, which normally ends in the holder getting tackled for the loss and a change of possession.

Eschweiler estimates that he does about 10 to 15 reps before practice, five warm ups and 20 actual reps with the special teams unit in practice. Prior to the Boylan game, Eschweiler said he took about 50 reps.

In McHenry County, field goals aren’t an every-game occurrence. Last season, local area kickers attempted a total of 40 field goals, with only six misses.

But kickers and punters also play an important role in field position, which often gets overlooked. It’s not always as simple as putting the ball in the end zone.

“You have to develop a game plans specific to the other team’s return team, because those kicks can change the momentum of a game,” Raffaelli said. “You can try to pin them between the 15 and 20, or you can have the kicker bash it down the field and have it bounce around. There’s a gamble either way. The kicker and coverage team must work together to make it successful.”

Eschweiler agrees.

“Kicking isn’t a solo act,” Eschweiler said. “It’s a total team effort.”

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