the study of the kicking components within sports

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

The Busiest Kicker in Chicago?

Who is the busiest kicker in Chicago? The first name of a Chicago kicker that probably comes to mind is the Bears' Robbie Gould. Although widely known, highly successful, and certainly very accurate, he is probably not the answer. And we're basing that on his kicking workload before and after the current NFL lockout. Staying in the family yields another possible answer. Robbie's brother Chris kicks for the Chicago Rush of the AFL. The typically higher scores in arena ball generate more extra point attempts and more kickoffs. Although that could mean that Chris is technically busier than Robbie, that is probably still not the answer. 

But if we stay indoors, it could lead to what may be the real answer. The lesser known CIFL includes a Chicago team - the Knights.

Their kicker is Julie Harshbarger.

She is busy.

Before we get to the busy part, we'll go back to the beginning. Just like Robbie and Chris, and like virtually every other football kicker these days, Julie got her start kicking a soccer ball at an early age. The transition to football occurred during her freshman year at Hononageh High School, courtesy of one of her friends who had played football on defense during junior high. During a recent interview she told us the story:
"My friend wanted to keep playing, but she was too small and the guys were getting too big. She knew that I could kick a soccer ball really far and she wanted me to help her learn how to kick stuff. I tried working with her and she couldn’t do it very well, while I could do it very well. She said, ‘well, maybe you should try out for the team’. One of my other friends double dared me, ‘I’ll give you ten bucks if you can get on the team'."
What was the hardest part about learning to kick a football after having started with soccer?
“Kicking the ball straight and getting enough height on it, to make it go through the uprights and not get blocked."
Julie quickly mastered those techniques, made the team, and presumably collected her ten dollars. One of the games she still remembers best occurred back in high school during her junior year:
"We were playing for second place in the conference, and we were playing the best team in our conference. I was perfect on my extra points and we won by one point in double overtime… on the final one there was a lot of pressure, because if I would have missed it we would have kept going and we might have lost."
Speaking of pressure, it is often mentioned that kicking is 80% mental. What is the first thing that comes to mind when she hears that?
"I’d probably have to agree. Well, maybe it’s not 80%, but it’s definitely a factor. If you think about it too much it will get in your head. I just try to have fun with it. I joke around with my friends, family, and whoever is at the game or at practice. Just always have fun and not take it too seriously, but at the same time focus on what I’m doing."
Since high school, Julie's kicking schedule has increased. She kicked for the football team at Rockford College (2004-5)and played soccer at Benedictine University (2006-7). Since 2005 she has kicked for minor league football team the Roscoe Rush. The last several years she also added indoor kicking to her calendar: the Mahoning Valley Hitmen in 2009, the Chicago Cardinals in 2010, who in turn morphed into the Chicago Knights in 2011. The indoor game presents several unique differences for kickers, including the narrow goal posts:
"It was a little intimidating at first just because they’re so close together compared to outdoors. But, it’s easier because you don’t have wind, you’re always on turf (you don’t have to worry about grass having divots)."
What is life like for an indoor and minor league football kicker?
"Awesome, because all you do is kick! It’s the best job (unless you miss, and then everyone hates you)."
Aside from kicking for two teams each year, Julie also holds down two "real jobs". In her spare time she does some occasional graphic arts. One project was the cover art to Listen for the Lark, a book written by her grandparents.
"I went to school for art so they asked me to do the design for it. It’s actually my grandma’s painting and I took it and I went into it with Photoshop and I changed it a little bit to make it look how they wanted as far as color."

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