Photo by Brian Paglia / Union Grove punter Derrick Craine sends a booming kick during a practice earlier this season.
Dutchtown football coach Jason Galt has seen the impact having a competent kicker can have on a team’s fortunes.
Two seasons ago, the Bulldogs won two playoffs games to reach the Class AAAA quarterfinals. Every point in the first two rounds came from the leg of senior kicker Ryan Kay in wins over Thomas County Central (15-0) and Glynn Academy (3-0). Dutchtown finished the season 11-2, the best finish by a public school in county history.
Last season after Kay graduated and Galt struggled to find a replacement, he joked before the season about going for fourth downs instead of field goals and two-point conversions rather than extra points. The Bulldogs wound up 5-5 and missed the playoffs.
“At every level [of football] the kicking game is so important,” Galt said. “It’s still a position.”
It’s a position that may be the most confounding for high school coaches to fill. The number of Henry County programs with able-legged kickers on a consistent basis are few. That number doesn’t increase much when expanded across the state of Georgia.
So county teams have resorted to the traditional methods of finding kickers — from within and from soccer teams.
Locust Grove coach Clint Satterfield used both to find the Wildcats’ kicker and punter.
He needed a big foot to punt and kick off, so Satterfield gave the job to center John Shoemaker.
“I guess that’s a perfect name for a kicker,” Satterfield quipped.
He needed an accurate foot to kick field goals and extra points, so Satterfield went to Locust Grove’s soccer team and found Kyle Howard, a 5-foot-10, 140-pound senior, willing to give it a try.
“That’s the first thing you do,” Satterfield said. “When you realize you don’t have someone to kick, you go drive right to your soccer team.”
It’s a popular refrain from Henry County teams. That’s where Stockbridge found Andres Guillen. Where Eagle’s landing found Oscar Hernandez. Where Union Grove found Shawn Davis.
That’s where Galt found Ryan Kangiser. Galt met him during a physical education class. Knowing Kangiser was on the soccer team, Galt pulled him out of class and had him try a few kicks. The next day Galt pulled him out of class again. A few more kicks and Kangiser decided to join the team.
Kangiser’s inexperience was obvious during Dutchtown’s exhibition game at Eagle’s Landing Christian when he forgot the Bulldogs’ routine for setting up to punt. But Galt’s been impressed with his progression since.
“The thing about him is he’s mentally tough,” Galt said. “He’s a straight-A student. He takes the coaching. It’s so funny to see his progression from ELCA to where now he has that confidence about him because he’s been through a few games. By the time he’s a junior or senior, he’s going to be really good.”
If he does, some of Kangiser’s progression will be thanks to Galt’s demand that special teams is emphasized at every single practice.
“When you create habits with kids, they don’t have to think about it,” Galt said. “We work on the basics every day.”
Union Grove takes the same approach. One local football coach said the Wolverines have the best kicking game in Henry County year in and year out. Union Grove special teams coach Tommy Brown has the facts to prove it — in his six years with the program, every kicker and long snapper has gone on to play in college. They didn’t last year, but only because the long snapper chose to play baseball and the kicker signed a soccer scholarship.
But the formula has been the same for each kicker. Brown gives them one-on-one attention at every practice.
If he’s quiet, it’s a good practice.
If he’s talking “they know they’ve got some things to work on,” Brown said.
“The secret is just basically on a day-to-day basis we go through fundamentals,” Brown added.
The difference a component kicking game makes is noticeable, coaches said.
“It really makes a difference in a close ball game,” Union Grove coach Paul Burgdorf said. “I’ve coached teams that haven’t had a strong kicking game. It seemed to always be a gamble on going for an extra point or field goal or not getting enough punt to reverse the field.”
“It could change the outcome of a game,” Satterfield said. “How many games do you see that were decided by one or two points? That could come down to a missed extra point. They don’t call it special teams for nothing. They’re special. They’re important.”