When Jon Alberts discusses his high school football career, it’s usually a quick conversation.
“I think I attempted one field goal my senior year,” said Alberts, a Huntley grad. “We had a really good team, and we scored a lot of touchdowns. My sophomore and junior years, I was a backup. I was definitely what they call a late bloomer.”
After his junior season at Huntley, Alberts remembers getting his driver’s license.
“I was 5-foot-6 and 130 pounds,” he said with a laugh.
More than four years later, the 21-year-old has blossomed physically and earned a big reputation as a kicker at NCAA Division III Central College in Pella, Iowa.
Now 5-11 and 190 pounds, Alberts will enter his senior season this fall as one of the nation’s top returning kickers after being one of 10 finalists for the Fred Mitchell Outstanding Place-Kicker Award, given to the best kicker in the country from schools in the Football Championship Subdivision, D-II, D-III, NAIA and NJCAA.
His 55-yard field goal against Wartburg in October was the longest kick in D-III last season as Alberts was 8 for 9 for the Dutch (8-2).
“It was a big confidence booster,” Alberts said. “I had some wind at my back that day at Wartburg. I had kicked 55 [yards] in practice a couple of times before that, so the coaches wouldn’t have tried it if they weren’t confident. I had a good snap and a good hold. I knew how big of a deal it was.”
Despite his relatively quiet high school career, Alberts wanted to continue playing.
“I didn’t really have a lot of film, but Central still wanted me,” he said. “I really wanted to play in college because I felt that I had a lot of untapped potential. It’s been a big change of pace from high school, and I’ve really enjoyed playing college football.”
Alberts took over as Central’s top kicker as a sophomore, and he connected on 14 of 16 kicks with a long of 40 yards.
For his career, he has made 88% of his kicks (22 for 25) and has had only one blocked.
“We’ve had a pretty clean operation,” he said of his snapper, holder and field goal unit. “The coaches really developed confidence during my sophomore year. In the past, my goal was to be good from 50 [yards] in, but now I want to be confident from 55 in.”
Alberts said his accuracy has carried over from success in practice at Huntley. He has missed only one kick within 40 yards at Central. His leg strength, meanwhile, has improved thanks to Central’s rigorous strength and conditioning program and his work with private kicking coach Chris Nendick, who played collegiately at Northern Illinois.
“In high school, I was accurate, but I didn’t have a very strong leg,” he said. “I take lifting pretty seriously. I’ve put on 10 pounds each year since high school. It’s helped with leg strength and my overall athleticism.”
Alberts, who was named a second-team All-West Region kicker by D3Football.com last season, is aiming high this season. Along with helping Central to the D-III playoffs for the first time since 2009, he’d like to repeat as a Fred Mitchell finalist and add another honor.
“The big goal I have personally is I want to be an All-American,” he said. “That’s the one big thing I’d like to shoot for.”
Alberts is 16 made field goals away from tying the school’s career record, and he is on track to surpass the career field goal percentage record of 71.7%.
“[The accuracy record] would show the consistency over my career,” he said. “But I don’t know if I want to attempt 16 field goals this year. That would mean we’re not scoring touchdowns.”
Although it’s not his main focus today, Alberts said professional football has become a more intriguing thought.
“I’m not going to lie. I’ve thought about it,” he said. “It doesn’t hurt to try.”
Sowa joins Winona State: Cary-Grove grad Katie Sowa has joined the NCAA D-II Winona State (Minn.) women’s basketball program, the school announced Monday.
Sowa, a 5-11 guard/forward, played last season at D-II University of Indianapolis and was one of the team’s top 3-point shooters.
While playing in every game as a top reserve, Sowa hit 57 3s – second most on the team – and shot 42.5% from long range. Sowa averaged 7.6 points a game while playing about 16 minutes a game, the most of any nonstarter.
“We expect her to give us quality depth and a scoring punch at multiple positions,” Winona State coach Scott Ballard told the school’s website. “She had a great freshman season at Indianapolis and is someone we were familiar with two years ago during her initials recruiting process.”
• Barry Bottino writes a weekly column about local college athletes for the Northwest Herald. Write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow @BarryOnCampus on Twitter.