By DAVE MORRISON
ESPN Radio 102.3 The Ticket
The boon on booting the ball has never been bigger.
So far, through four weeks of the high school football season, there have 10 field goes kicked by six different kickers representing six different schools. One school, Woodrow Wilson, nearly had two different kickers with field goals. By year’s end, they just might.
If there was ever a more prolific time for placekickers in southern West Virginia, I don’t recall it.
It’s true. Woodrow Wilson’s Jacob Young has four, setting his school’s record with four against Bluefield in Week 2.
Just this past weekend, four more field goals were kicked. Summers County’s Jacob Persiani had two in a victory against Wyoming East. James Monroe’s Evan Beasley had a 40 yarder against PikeView and German exchange student Luca Gerke had one against Midland Trail and nearly nailed a 50-yard try at the end of the first half.
Bluefield freshman Kaulin Parris had one against Woodrow in overtime, Oak Hill’s Addison Hayes had one in the opener.
No doubt, soccer’s influence has a hand in it.
Young is a soccer player at Woodrow, as is Josh Sisk, the aforementioned second Woodrow player who barely missed a 49-yard attempt against Bluefield. Parris is a soccer player at Bluefield.
Sisk for one, is considering the college gridiron as a potential college route. Averaging nearly 45 yards a punt, he is sure to get a look.
“I’m trying to go to college (as a kicker) now,” Sisk said. “I’m too short to go D-1 for goalkeeping. I want to go as far as I can in soccer but I want to take football to college.”
Young may follow suit. Understand neither played football before this season. The importance of points is at a premium.
That both follow the likes of Pat McAfee, the former WVU kicker/punter and now the Indianapolis Colts punter, stands to reason. McAfee was an outstanding soccer player at Plum High School outside of Pittsburgh.
Then there is Beasley, not a soccer player, just a genuinely good all-around athlete, who also punts for a high average. He is the team’s quarterback as well.
“It’s an important weapon to have,” James Monroe’s John Mustain said. “Last year we had Lance Wilson and he made a lot of big kids, big PATs. Evan is the same thing. It’s just something he can do. That 40 yard field goal might have been good from 50. If you have a guy who can kick, it’s almost like an extension of the defense when you can flip that field around.”
Gerke came from Germany, not with a soccer background, but with a basketball background.
Not that kicking is something new. These guys aren’t reinventing the game. After all, Craig Williams of Fayetteville once tied a record with a 55-yard field goal. That was in October of 1999 against rival Midland Trail.
Later that year Williams was injured and didn’t kick again.
Don’t discount the three in Class A, where sometimes just finding a kicker can be a struggle. In the smaller ranks for years, some teams simply lined up for a 2-point conversion, the PAT not even considered.
“Last night was interesting,” Summers County coach Nate Tanner said. “The kids were excited that Jacob kicked two field goals (Summers’ first points of the game against Wyoming East, both in the first quarter, the second tying the game at 6-6) instead of pouting about not getting the ball in the end zone. Any time you can get points on the board, even a field goal, it’s big. Jacob is consistent, he does a good job. And not just with field goals.”
Last year Persiani had a game-winner in a victory over Liberty.
Don’t discount the role of kicking in the game. Of course it’s always been a part of the Big Three – offense, defense and special teams.
But the role of the kicker has never been as strong regionally as it is now. As the NFL tries to lessen the role of kickers in its game, expect it to increase around these parts.
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Midland Trail coach Frankie Isaacs was joking at the beginning of the season when he said if the Patriots complete a pass, they will have more from the passing game than they did all of last season.
Or so we thought.
Turns out, the Patriots not only want to throw, they can do it with success.
Quarterback Curtis Gray has already thrown for more yardage and touchdowns than he did last year as a starter as a freshman.
Remember, he threw a touchdown pass on his first high school attempt.
He waited nearly the length of the season to do it again.
Not that Midland Trail is going to go all J.R. House any time soon. Gray won’t break those storied marks by a long shot.
But the improvement is noticeable.
In 10 games last year Gray was 21 of 42 for 212 yards and three touchdowns.
This year, through four games, he is 14 for 29 for 232 yards with six touchdowns.
“We’ve probably already surpassed the passing yards this year compared to last year already,” Isaacs said, without already known that his team had, in fact, surpassed the passing yards this year compared to last year already.
“Curtis is growing up. He’s a sophomore. He’s starting to see the field a little better, understanding coverages and understanding what we’re asking. We don’t have a complex passing game. He just understand and trust the line and trust the play call and put the ball up in the air. We’ve got four guys we can play at wide receiver that’s six-foot (tall) or better. In single-A that’s pretty good, we just have to utilize that.”
Midland Trail has won three straight after an opening loss to Independence.
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With all the passing yardage Fayetteville was putting up, the Pirates’ ground-game may have gotten a little lost in the mix.
But to the point where it was cause for concern?
After opening the season with 55 yards on the ground against Clay, there was a steady increase to 183 against Valley, 196 against Richwood to a season-high 217 against Meadow Bridge Friday night.
Part of that is due to moving Jordan Demspey, and to some extent Marcus Lively, to the backfield.
And Davy Gilliam has turned out to be a touchdown machine with eight TDs on the ground.
Still with the numbers quarterback Will Fenton has put up, the ground attack is 14 yards behind the passing game output of 660 yards. This season the Pirates have 104 rushing attempts to 60 pass attempts., roughtly 64 percent of the plays on the ground for just 49.5 percent of the offense.
It should increase.
“We know you have to run the football to be successful,” coach Dave Moneypenny said. “We’re Fayetteville. We’re still a wing-T team. We’ve been doing that for 30, 40 years, since coach Spangler was here.”
The Pirates aren’t going to go away from the pass. But showing they can still run the football will pay dividends down the line.
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Speaking of running the football, Independence has done it well this season.
Through four games, the Patriots have amassed 1,221 yards on 150 carries, an average of 8.1 yards per carry. Princeton also has 1,221 yards and both teams are the only teams with rushers topping the century mark in a game this season.
Both are 3-1, with Independence headed for Westside and Princeton hosting Buckhannon-Upshur.