Introductions had been made, pleasantries exchanged. Now Chuck Amato wanted to get inside Scott Bentley's head. Bentley, the best schoolboy kicker in the country, was on his official visit to Florida State last January when Amato, the assistant head coach, tossed him this hypothetical: "It's August 28, we're in Giants Stadium for the Kickoff Classic against Kansas. Right before kickoff, we call a timeout, and the other 10 guys on the kickoff team are pulled off the field. Think you can kick it out of the end zone?"
The idea, Amato explained later, was to see how the kid handled pressure. But Bentley, then 18, was becoming impervious to pressure. After he had said thanks but no thanks to Nebraska, Cornhusker coach Tom Osborne flew out to Colorado to meet him anyway. Come here, Miami had told Bentley, and you can kick and play receiver. In all, more than 90 schools had offered him scholarships. By January he had narrowed his choices down to Florida State and Notre Dame. The Seminoles had greeted him as if he were a soccer-style kicking messiah, the missing link to the national championship that has so long eluded them. Fighting Irish head coach Lou Holtz, meanwhile, had promised Bentley the starting kicker's and punter's jobs for four years. Bentley's father, Bob—Notre Dame, class of '67—had told him to listen to Holtz.
Well, did he think he could kick it out of the end zone?
Bentley's response to Amato has become part of his growing legend: "Probably. But if I don't, I'll make the tackle."
Meet football's equivalent of cartoonist Roz Chast's Poodle with a Mohawk: Kicker with an Attitude. At Colorado's North-South All-State Game in June, Bentley, a 6'1", 175-pound Parade All-America who played defensive back and quarterback in high school, was forbidden to do anything but kick and punt. So he sprinted upheld after each of the punts. "I couldn't help it," said Bentley. "I just wanted to hit somebody."
Ray Pelfrey, who runs kicking camps all over the country (page 38), has called Bentley "possibly the best kicker in the history of high school football." Pelfrey feels that Bentley's gift resides in his fast-twitch muscle fibers. "The kid runs the 40 in 4.4," Pelfrey says. "You combine that leg speed with his technical soundness, and good things are gonna happen."
They already have. In four years of high school—one at Regis High in Boulder and three at Overland High in Aurora—Bentley nailed 35 field goals. His longest, a 58-yarder, was one of seven he kicked from 50 or more yards out. (He consistently makes 65-yarders in practice and has connected from 70.) At Overland he converted 115 of 117 extra-point attempts and put 34 kickoffs between the uprights. His 41.8-yard net punting average last season would have ranked him first in Division I-A.
Don't call him a kicking specialist, though. Last season Bentley punted, kicked, kicked off, returned punts and started at quarterback in a veer-option offense that required him to absorb, on average, 20 hard shots per game. In the spring he started at shortstop on the Overland baseball team; next spring he will play centerfield for Florida State. For the scores of college football recruiters who courted Bentley, Overland coach Tony Manfredi had this advice: "Don't treat him like a kicker. Treat him like a football player, or you'll lose him."
Seminole coach Bobby Bowden grasped that. Holtz did not. "You'll only have to practice for a half hour," Holtz told Bentley. "Then you can go and play golf."
"I don't want to play golf," says Bentley. "I want to run 40's with [Seminole wide receiver] Tamarick Vanover."