I punt O.K., as I should. I punted, after all, at a major university. The kicking goes less smoothly. On my first kick I gouge out a toupee-sized divot that outdistances the ball. Jason Traut, a 17-year-old camper from Fullerton, Calif., materializes in line next to me, and I figure he's trying to get his picture in the magazine, but he sets me straight. "If I kick right after you," he says, "it'll make me look that much better."
At tonight's video session Ray deftly softens his constructive criticism of each camper by finding something—anything—nice to say about his kicking. "Son, look at your track to the ball; at that rate you'll run over your holder and kill him," Ray tells one camper. "But it'll take no more than 30 minutes to get you cleaned up. You watch, your kicking is going to explode."
My kick stumps him. The football rises feebly, then drops like a shot quail. "Well, boys, you see," Ray finally says, "this person is, uh, new to kicking."
Rob Pelfrey pounds on our doors at seven sharp. I am not completely rested, due to a wee-hours racket created by one Matt Bates, a 17-year-old camper from Mohave Valley, Ariz. Finding himself locked out of the dorm, Bates had climbed up to the third-floor ledge and pounded on his window, providing most of the camp with a 2 a.m. wake-up call.
"I hope you won't think it presumptuous of me," I tell Rob, "to recommend that Matt be sent home without a refund."
But Bates talks his way out of the jam. The Pelfreys rarely send campers home early. "Kids who come to a kicking camp are usually pretty serious about kicking," says Rob. Year in, year out, the only trouble spot for the Pelfreys is the camp at Southern Methodist, which coincides with a ballerina camp and a girls' high school drill-team camp. Four years ago Rob burst into the room of a kicker just as the fellow was about to lower himself out of a sixth-floor window with sheets he had tied together. His destination: the room of a drill-team camper two floors below. Two years ago Rob rousted a pair of ballerinas from a kicker's closet. Pack up, he told the kicker, you're going home. Once the blubbering boy was packed, Rob told him to unpack and go to bed.
This morning's session is devoted to "corrective techniques and drills" for kicking. Ray moves my plant foot up, makes my stance a shade wider. We work on my "plant and turn," my "inside quad pull" and my "leg lock"—the closing action of the leg, timed to occur at impact with the football. In five minutes Ray doubles my average distance... to 20 yards. He showers me with other technical pointers but extracts a vow that I will not pass them on to readers. The danger of industrial espionage cannot be underestimated.
I thought he was kidding, too. But competition among kicking camps is cutthroat. The Pelfreys say they've been victimized by unscrupulous rival instructors. Last year a boy showed up at a Pelfrey camp with a video put together for him by the instructor at another camp. The video included footage pirated from a Pelfrey video. Ray refuses to make a video on the American Wedge technique, even though "hardly a day goes by," he says, that someone does not request it. Ray isn't about to hand his livelihood over to the copycats.
When Ray splits us up for the "post accuracy drill," I go with the eighth-, ninth-and 10th-graders, in comparison with whom I suffer least. We form a line. The idea is to hit the upright 30 yards away. After botching a few kicks, I'm marshaling my wits for another try when Ray speaks.