the study of all things kicker related

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

CFL West Division 2011 Specialists

B.C. Lions
"Can't wait for the start of the season. Team looks really good!"
K Hugh O'Neill (9-game injured list)
"It’s a good opportunity to ease in to my new environment. I’m just going to try and adapt as much as I can. It’s definitely not a bad idea to groom me."
"My mom sacrificed so much for me and my brother. She kind of had this motto for us growing up: Work hard and have fun.' I've kind of lived by that slogan, as corny and cliché as it is, but it's gotten me a long way."
Calgary Stampeders
"The difference between me this year and last year? I came into camp in better shape. Technically, I’m better. But mentally, I’m better. I’m ready to play."
“There was some wear and tear on my leg in the last game,” he said. “So it’s just a slight tweak. I think I’ll be fine to go for the game. I’m going to swing the leg again on Wednesday and see how it feels.”
"Everything feels good. This is one of my best off-seasons, strength-wise. It's more making sure the recovery's there and making sure I'm taking care of myself between practices. This off-season, I did a little more yoga than I did in the past. With the job and the way my career has evolved now, I'm still doing well at snapping and running down field and keeping fit, so I feel good."
Edmonton Eskimos
"Most people, fan-wise, would say when you get in your 30s you’re getting old but, fortunately from a kicking standpoint, generally when you’re getting into your 30s ... those are some of your best years. You’ve been playing, you’ve been through the ups and downs, and you know where you’ve been with yourself.... Honestly, what happened to me last year, I believe now has given me that rebirth and the opportunity to come and show an organization and a city that I’ve still got everything. I’m still that all-star kicker and punter that I was and the only way to show it is to continue to walk on this field every day and prove it."
"Getting in last year towards the end of the year was definitely good. After a while of just sitting around, you get a little down on yourself because you want to play. Playing one here and there, you don’t really get the effects of the ups and downs of a kicker. So playing four in a row last season was huge for myself in development in just understanding how to get over a bad kick.... I think having [Duval] here makes me be more focused. I know in pre-game sometimes I’ll struggle real bad with field goals, but once I get in that game atmosphere with the snap and rushers, I have a pretty high percentage. I think when I get into the zone is where I do my best and I’ll have to be really focused now that he’s here."
"Coming back home to play in Edmonton has always been a dream and I guess a goal of mine … if I get the opportunity to play here the rest of my career, I’ll be a very happy man."
Saskatchewan Roughriders
K Luca Congi (9-game injured list)
"I figured they were going to do something, but what they were going to do, I didn’t know. Whether they were going to bring someone in, draft somebody, have Eddie [Johnson] do all three [punts, field goals and kickoffs] or whatever it may be, I didn’t know. But I knew they had to have some sort of backup plan. You see it all the time: Guys get hurt, so guys have to step up and fill in.... When they drafted [Milo], it was like, ‘They drafted a kicker. OK. It doesn’t matter. It doesn’t change my day. I found out. OK. I’ll just go back in, do my rehab and get back to work’."
"It was more of a sprint mentality for me last year: Make it happen quick [to replace Congi] as opposed to make it happen for the year. I made some changes, so I feel better about it. I still feel I need to take out some things that are muscle memory. I need to have the swing just feel pure and I think that will come. I don’t feel nervous about it."
"I just want to help out as much as I can and if I get to stay, they'll get the best from me, that's for sure."
"I’m not going to stir things up,” he added. “It’s the nature of the business. This is how it works. You learn new things and take the good with the bad. They [Montreal] were just trying to make their team better. If I wasn’t in their plans, fair enough. They were protecting themselves."

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

CFL East Division 2011 Specialists

Hamilton Tiger-Cats
"I think I can kick at this level and contribute to the team. I’ve been kicking well.... It would feel good [to play Toronto]. This team’s strong and hopefully we get a chance to play them. Hopefully I can score some points against them."

Montreal Alouettes
"It's a great feeling to know they're here to accommodate me. It's comforting to know they want me and I'm their guy. I can focus on the season and not guess about my role."
"I wish I'd been given another chance by my former team. But I also put myself in this situation, and there's no one to blame but myself. I should have done better in Hamilton, but God forbid I kick for 76 per cent here.... If my role is to be a positive team guy, I'll make sure I do it to the best of my abilities."

Toronto Argonauts
"I plan on playing at least another four (seasons) and then see what happens. But you start getting older and you don’t know what your body is going to do from morning to morning.... It can be somewhat discouraging. The good thing for me is Grant is a good kid and he has good character, and I am willing to work with guys like that. I used to relish the fact I was the only guy in camp. You get comfortable in your job."

Winnipeg Blue Bombers
"I've really worked on getting those kickoffs deeper. If I can put them down on the 10, inside the 10 hopefully, and stay consistent on field goals, it will be a good year."
"You're a fool if you get complacent. I don't take anything for granted. One off-day and they'll have someone in here the next day to take my job. I know that."
"I like Mr. Mom, but I’m not going to lie about it, I’m excited to be back on the field. That second pre-season game I only played seven plays so to me I’ve pretty much been off a year and a half.... It was kind of a double-edged sword. In one way I’m missing out on football and you’re watching someone else do your job for a full year. But at the same time... I got to hang out with and play with my awesome kids."

Monday, June 20, 2011

Nick Folk: Soccer, Football, and Little Bit of Hip

So far, Nick Folk's kicking story has touched on the six corners of the world: California (Notre Dame HS in Sherman Oaks), Germany (dual citizenship), England (Manchester United), Arizona (University of), Dallas (Cowboys), and New York (Jets). We recently had a chance to speak with Nick regarding those and points in between.

What is your earliest recollection of kicking a ball?
“I was playing soccer growing up. I remember kicking the ball (soccer) around with my dad when I was little. Then I started playing when I was four. Early on I got the nickname of “thunder leg” from one of my other team mates when I was little, because I could always kick the ball pretty far.”

When or how did you transition from soccer over to football?
“Going into high school I didn’t know may people. I knew one guy (he’s actually the backup catcher for the Florida Marlins right now)… I played soccer with him growing up and he was going to my high school as well, and he was gonna go play football. I said, ‘well, I guess I could try kicking and see how that goes’. I ended up kicking. After the first 45 minutes of practice after they had special teams, then I’d go to soccer practice. That was how I did it my whole high school career.”

What was the hardest part about learning to kick a football after having started with soccer?
“It wasn’t too bad. We were using those big tees and blocks in high school, so it would get up for you pretty nicely. The hardest transition for me actually was the summer before I was going to college. I didn’t really transition to that little one inch block for a long time or ever... I went from the big two inch one straight to the ground. I think that was the toughest transition, but it didn’t take long… just a couple minor adjustments here and there, and that was really it.”

Was there anything from soccer that you had to unlearn when switching over to football?
“No, but if I were to go play soccer now I’d definitely have to re-teach myself how to kick a soccer ball.”

I saw in your Wikipedia bio that you’re still an avid soccer fan. Were they correct?
 “Yes, yes. I’m a big Manchester United fan. When I was in high school I went over with the ODP team from Cal South, and we actually got to train at Manchester United’s indoor facility. We got a private tour of Old Trafford. Ever since then I’ve been a Manchester United fan. I watch as many games as I can. I watched the Championship Final the other week. I’m a dual citizen of Germany and the United States, so I’m a big German soccer fan too for the national team. When the U.S. is playing I watch and hope they do well. If the U.S were to ever play Germany, I’d root for the United States, but if Germany wins it’s not a bad deal.”

Switching back to football: looking back over your entire career so far, does a particular kick come to mind as your biggest kick?
“I’d have to say the one in Indy that won a playoff game. We were down. It’s not a tie ball game where if you miss, ‘oh well’. We’re down by two with three seconds left at the end of the game. To keep us going in the playoffs, I’d have to say that one as of right now. That was probably the biggest, most important kick of my career… to keep us going and get all the way to the AFC Championship Game.”

A couple questions regarding your hip surgery the other year. Since it seems that is becoming a somewhat common occurrence amongst kickers, could you share any thoughts and insights that might be of interest to other kickers out there, starting with the time just prior to the surgery?
“Just make sure you get it checked out by a hip specialist if you have any hip problem, because I had it checked out by a bunch of doctors and they told me, ‘we don’t really know what we’re looking at’. They all told me ‘well, we can tell you don’t have a torn labrum’. Then I sent my MRIs to two hip specialists and they said, ‘oh yea, I can see it [a torn labrum] very clearly’. I could have had the surgery a lot sooner, and could have been a lot more prepared for that last year in Dallas. I ended up getting two weeks to prepare before training camp. Everything happens for a reason, and I’m a big believer in that. I had a great year up in New York. I had a lot of fun and met a lot of new people. It’s a great organization, playing for the Jets, and I’m hoping we can keep that going.”

Any insights from the rehab process after the surgery?
“I pushed it pretty good. I had surgery twelve weeks from the day that we were starting training camp. If I would have had [the surgery] in say January, I could have pushed it a little bit just to get back as quick as possible, but I wouldn’t have pushed the kicking part of it. Other than that it was pretty smooth rehab process....
The joint itself where they cut the muscle open, to repair it they have to overlap it and make it a little tighter, a little stronger. The biggest thing was getting the strength back in my leg and then getting the flexibility back. That’s part of any hip surgery, or any surgery in general, where you have to get the strength back and the stretching. Other than that it was a pretty smooth process. I followed the book that they gave me and just kept going as best as I could.”

Switching from the physical side over to the mental side of kicking, they often mention that kicking is 80% or even 90%mental. What comes to mind when you hear that?
“I think a lot of that is true. A lot of it is mental because you’re trying to tell yourself swing paths like in golf. If you’re working on something, you have to remember to do that. When I go out there I try to keep it more mental during practice, so that’s what I’m working on then. During the games I try to just really not have it be mental at all. Just go out there, walk everything out, let everything go, and then just go kick the ball. I work on a lot of that stuff during practice to really hone in my mental skills and hone in the things I’m working on then. In the games I go out there in pre-game and figure out what the wind, or the weather, or the turf is doing. Then during the game there’s no real thinking involved. It’s just, ’Okay, from here I’m going to kick the ball at that particular spot’. That’s all I’m really thinking about.”

Looking ahead to this year, is there anything in particular you’ve been working on or how are you going about preparing for the hopeful season?
“I’m preparing like I’m playing for the New York Jets, so I’m training like I’m going to be playing up there. As far as the kicking part goes, I’m just kicking with my kicking coach a couple times a month. I go out with him and teach at his camps, and then I’ll also get instruction from him during the camps as well. I’m just kicking away. I think the new kickoff rule isn’t really gonna affect the way I kick, but now you can have a little different strategy as far as the different types of kicks. You can hit some pop kicks to different areas. Teams might be a little more likely to try a few more surprise onsides. I’m trying to figure out a couple different surprise onsides and working on those. Other than that I just keep kicking. I fee pretty comfortable with the way I’ve been kicking. Just trying to stay strong and stay healthy.”

Special thanks to Nick's agent, Chuck Vine of The Titan Group, for arranging this interview.

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."

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Cincinnati Commandos & Brandon Yingling: Continental Conquest

The Continental Indoor Football League's 2011 season concluded Saturday night with the championship game. The Cincinnati Commandos won their second consecutive title with a 44-29 win over the Marion Blue Racers. Sure there were lots of touchdowns, but the highlight of the game (as always) was the kicking. We caught up with Commando kicker Brandon Yingling for a few questions:

How does it feel to be CIFL champs?
"It feels surreal. Amazing to complete what we started with our perfect season. That was our goal from the beginning."
What kick from this past season do you remember most?
"The kick I remember most is my first field goal I made. It was 3 weeks ago against Marion at home. It was the first professional field goal I made and I continued making them the last couple games."
Before the season we asked you about the adjustments in kicking indoors. Having now been through the full season, is there anything you would like to expand on or to add to your original answer?
"The one thing I would add is with kickoffs. It was a little difficult learning how hard to kick the ball to get it as high as I could if we were in a high arena, but keeping it from going over the wall. It required a lot of practice and finesse."

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Saginaw Sting & Chris Kollias Ultimately Prevail

The Ultimate Indoor Football League's inaugural season concluded Friday night with the Ultimate Bowl. The Saginaw Sting became the league's first champions with an 86-69 win over the Eastern Kentucky Drillers. Sure there were lots of touchdowns, but the highlight of the game (as always) was the kicking. We caught up with Sting kicker Chris Kollias for a few questions:

How does it feel to be UIFL champs?
"It's a great feeling. As a team we went through a lot of ups and downs and all the guys stuck together. Eastern Kentucky played a great game but we just weren't going to be beat."
Can you tell us about the 55 yarder?
"It was actually 52. I had practiced kicking from distance alot in practice this week and pre-game. I was very confident going out there to attempt it. I got a great snap and hold and knocked it through. It was definitely the biggest field goal I ever kicked and it showed in my celebration. It was in the coaching staff's opinion a huge momentum shift."
Before the season we asked you about the adjustments in kicking indoors. Having now been through the full season, is there anything you like to expand on or to add to your original answer?
"The biggest thing was adjusting to driving the ball. I finally got used to it during the end of the season. Kicking is still kicking, you just have to be skilled enough to adjust your kick to your surroundings. I worked hard and it all came together by season's end."