July 19, 2008

Kicking notebook: Top kickers also top athletes

SHERMAN OAKS, Calif. - There is no question that kicking is a unique and valuable skill, one which makes or breaks games and seasons for football teams. Yet kickers are constantly striving for respect as athletes. However, some of the top prospects at the Chris Sailer Top 12 Kicking Camp have proven that they are much more than just a strong leg and.

At 6-foot-0, 205 pounds, West Palm Beach (Fla.) Cardinal Newman kicker Brendan Gibbons, looks anything but a high school kicker. In fact, he is much more than that, starting at middle linebacker for his high school team.

"I start at linebacker," Gibbons said. "Kicking doesn't take that much out of me. I like hitting people. In college, I still can go down and hit people on kickoffs."

Along with Gibbons, 2010 prospect Cade Foster also plays linebacker at 6-foot-1, 215 pounds for his prestigious Southlake (Texas) Carroll program. Andrew Ritter of Jackson (Miss.) Jackson Academy doesn't stop with just kicking and defense.

"Last season was pretty good," Ritter said. "It was kind of tough though because I was going both ways. I play wide receiver. Last year I played d-end and this year I'll be a strong safety. I've been mainly working on getting in as best shape as possible and working on not getting tired so that I can kick."

While some of the kickers at Sailer's camp excel in multiple positions, RC Willenbrock of Englewood (Colo.) Cherry Creek excels at multiple sports. Not only is Willenbrock receiving interest from schools such as Boston College and Cal as a kicker, but he is also receiving interest from some of the top lacrosse programs in the country as a midfielder.

"I kind of go back and forth on what I like better so we'll see how things turn out," Willenbrock said.

Top Performer

One of the top performers on the field goal day Friday was Houston (Texas) St. Pius X kicker Anthony Fera, winning the field goal competition by hitting back-to-back 60-yarders. On Saturday during the kickoff portion of the camp, Fera continued to up his game.

The 6-foot-2, 230-pounder showed tremendous leg strength as a kickoff man getting great distance and hang time on all of his kicks. Consistently, Fera was kicking the ball 70-plus yards and hanging the ball in the air for four seconds. Both of those numbers would thrill any college special teams coach. His best kick of the afternoon was a 73-yarder with 4.21 seconds of hang time.

Fera lists Michigan, Penn State and Ohio State as his top three as well as the three schools that are showing him the most interest.

"Right now Michigan is the one that's probably going to come through (with an offer) right now," Fera said. "They just got back from their two-week vacation and their going to talk it over with the coaching staff and recruiters and stuff. I could see myself at any of three."

Fera has shown his leg in more than just camp settings. As only a freshman, Fera kicked a career long 58-yard field goal.

Other top performers

On Saturday, with a kickoff emphasis, more of the committed prospects continued to show off their skills. Florida State commit Dustin Hopkins again was one of the top performers and continued to show why he is considered by many to be the top kicker in the country.

SMU commit Mike Loftus once again demonstrated a big leg and showcased his skills as a kickoff man, an area where he excels. Mike Bowlin also was outstanding in the kickoffs as a big, strong athletic prospect.

Though not one of the bigger prospects, Mitch Ewal again looked solid, showing good consistency throughout.

Jeff Budzien out of Hartland (Wisc.) Arrowhead, Evan Engwal of Derby, Kan., and Virginia Tech commit Cody Journell were three other names that stood out on the second day of competition in California.

Cameo Appearances
The Chris Sailer camp had a special guest on Saturday from Dallas Cowboys kicker Nick Folk. As a Sailer-trained kicker, Folk provided a glimpse at what could be lie in the future for a few of the elite campers at the event.

Along with Folk, UCLA punter Aaron Diaz was the instructor for the four punters in attendance. Also, UCLA kicker Kai Forbath, USC kicker Joe Houston and LSU kicker Andrew Crutchfield all took part in some of the competitions and lent their services to the camp.

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