- TOP PLAYERSOffensePABLO S. TORRE | August 20, 2012
- TAMPA BAY buccaneersENEMY lines WHAT A RIVAL COACH SAYSJune 28, 2012
- Faces in the CrowdJune 11, 2001
"Nobody can coach 'em, those soccer kickers," says Indiana's Corso. His advice to Stavroff when he uses him is "go in there and kick it." Tom Harp of Indiana State is one of the few who do not agree with Corso, at least not publicly. Harp coached Pete Gogolak at Cornell in the early '60s. Since Gogolak is said to be the father of soccer kicking in American football, what really happened is that Harp watched Gogolak very closely and tried to learn a few things. He now likens the basic technique of the soccer kick to the golf swing: the arc of the kick coming into the ball inside out. The errors of the soccer kicker, he says, are similar to those of the golfer: the foot strays one way, shank; the foot strays another, slice. Harp believes that coaching soccer-style kickers is getting easier because kids are doing it on playgrounds. He says "half the little leaguers in Terre Haute" have been imitating his freshman walk-on soccer kicker, Dave Vandercook, since Vandercook's dramatic 50-yard field goal on Sept. 20 beat Southern Illinois with no time left on the clock.
Nonetheless, most coaches still handle their placekickers intuitively, and gingerly, as one might a bomb with a faulty fuse. Rhetorical question: How do you get a soccer kicker out of a slump? Answer: you don't. If you're, say, Woody Hayes, you relieve him. Klaban kicked 52 of 53 points after touchdowns and nine of 12 field goals last year to out-score even Heisman Trophy winner Archie Griffin on the Ohio State team, but when he was laid up with an injury this year and then scuffed his first extra-point try against North Carolina, Woody yanked him. In came Klaban's roomie, team punter Tom Skladany. Skladany looks like Harpo Marx. He plays the accordion by ear, can throw a golf ball out of Ohio Stadium, does card tricks and can pronounce backward any word you give him. No wonder Woody thought he was a placekicker.
But when Skladany missed his extra-point try, Hayes didn't fool around trying to tell him to keep his head down or anything like that. He returned Klaban to the first chair. Against UCLA, Klaban boomed two long field goals and five extra points in a 41-20 Ohio State victory.
So. Now you've had some mathematics, and a little history, and are ready to meet Dave Lawson. Lawson is not a kicking specialist. Better not call him one, either, because he doesn't like it and he is 6'1", 219 pounds. He says kicking "was just a way to stay on the varsity." He stuck and also became a starting guard-linebacker for the Air Force Academy. He still kicks, all right (he says he "enjoys it" and that it "provides some color to the game"), but he doesn't work as hard at it as he does his defense. He doesn't kick soccer-style. He kicks straight on, the way Blanda does. And Lou Groza used to. Throw out everything you've learned so far. Lawson isn't even Hungarian.
Lawson is from Shawnee Mission, Kans. An excellent all-round athlete, he throws the javelin and is defending wing heavyweight boxing champion. Assistant Coach Leland Kendall says Lawson has "the strongest leg I've ever seen." (See? They all do it.)
Lawson is no chest beater. His is the short, pragmatic view of placekicking. "It's a way to win—and a way to lose," he says. And too often a lonely salvage operation when the offense has had to go off with less than it worked for, a touchdown. "I think about the rest of them beating their brains out to get downfield," he says, "and then if I miss that's when I really feel bad."
There are others among the new kickers who are players in the total sense, who would not hesitate to make a block or risk their skin for a tackle. Stanford's Mike Langford, whose coach, Jack Christiansen, calls him "the best in the country" (naturally), is 6'2", 215 pounds, and was a linebacker in junior college. Bob Wood, though only 5'7", 175 pounds, plays flanker and halfback on the Michigan scout teams. He kicked a school-record four field goals against Stanford. He is also black, a rarity among placekickers.
Look at Chris Bahr and you know he's no defensive end. Bahr is 5'9", 160 pounds, and when he goes onto the field without shoulder pads, which he sometimes does, he appears especially frail and vulnerable. Until his right foot explodes into the ball. Bahr kicks soccer-style. His 14 field goals currently leads the nation. "He is a natural," says his father Walter, who was an All-America in soccer at Temple and is now the Penn State soccer coach. Chris is one of those ail-American boys (quiet, soft-spoken, 3.5 in biology) who just happened to grow up in soccer instead of football. He is, in fact, a superb athlete. Under the 4-year-old NCAA rule that allows a scholarship athlete in one sport to play professionally in another, Bahr competed for the Philadelphia Atoms of the North American Soccer League last spring. "Competed" is not exactly the word. He led the team in scoring and was Rookie of the Year.
It probably won't be Bob Berg of New Mexico. Berg is not only small (5'11", 157 pounds), he is a professed nonathlete who "never even went to a college game until I played in one." He kicks straight on.