It's such an uncommon sight in high school football, though a devastating weapon when properly done, that observers just don't seem to know how to react.
Lickety-split --es by halfbacks bring spontaneous screams from the stands. So do pad-cracking sacks by big linemen. But when a punter sends a football soaring and spiraling 40 or more yards downfield, players and fans alike follow the flight in silent amazement, then softly mutter something like, "Whew, nice kick!"
Not many high school punters provide that kind of quiet thrill. Three who do are Cardinal Gibbons' Wally Lowery, Poly's Albert Tyler and Chesapeake-BC's Lamar King. And each puts a different twist on his kicking game.
Soccer-style place-kickers have become the norm at all levels of football, but Lowery, a 6-foot-2, 190-pound senior, actually uses the sidewinding technique for punting, too. Not only does he lead the area with a 45.8-yard average, but he's also Gibbons' top soccer player and leading scorer with five goals and two assists.
"I've played soccer since I was 3, starting at a neighborhood recreation center," he said. "I like indoor soccer; outdoor's not my game . . . I think soccer's a dead-end sport, though. I love to play it, but there are a lot more scholarships available for 'N football."
Lowery, in his third full season of varsity soccer, said: "I always go to soccer practice first, then football . . . and this fall the schedule has worked out so I don't have to miss any football games."
Gibbons coach Frank Trcka has been reluctant to tamper with Lowery's unorthodox method since he came out as a sophomore, never having played football, and led the Maryland Scholastic Association with a 44.5-yard average. Mononucleosis wiped out his junior season.
"He's got a big, strong leg but he's got no form on his punting," said Trcka. "He went to a kicking camp at Penn State and out-kicked everybody. He's a one-step kicker, and that makes it difficult to block because he gets it off quickly. He's an excellent place-kicker with great form. Last week he fell 1 yard short on a 53-yard field-goal attempt down the middle. And his kickoffs land consistently from the 5 into the end zone."
At Poly, starting quarterback Tyler adds an offensive dimension to the kicking game while averaging 41.1 yards -- second in the area -- in his first year punting. "He's a threat on a fake punt," said Engineers coach Augie Waibel. "Against Salesianum, he called an automatic when we split an end out and they didn't cover. He passed for a 25-yard gain. And he can quick-kick from the quarterback position, which he did against Forest Park."
When Ken Johnson, in his first season as Chesapeake coach, began practice this summer, he was auditioning players for punter. "Some of the kids kept saying, 'Let Lamar try,' so we let Lamar try," Johnson said. "Boom! Everybody just looked up at the ball and that was it. Lamar was the punter."
A 6-3, 205-pound freshman, King just turned 15 years old. He never played organized football because he was too big for the youth leagues, but he's learning quickly. Starting at defensive end, he's already the team's third-leading tackler. As a punter averaging 40.8 yards, King "has a very strong leg, and he's very athletic," said Johnson. "In our first game it didn't matter if he was punting from 40 or 80 yards away. He just kicked as far as he could. But last week against Pikesville he put two into the corner. He kicks the ball unbelievably high. We've been getting field position because they can't run it back.
"His kickoffs are high and they're fielding most of them between the 2 and 7." Most impressive though, said Johnson, is the freshman's poise. "He's done it under the pressure of the game."