After 10 years of playing recreational soccer, Steve Oliver figured he was ready to make an impact upon entering Old Mill High School as a freshman.
An impact, that is, on the gridiron.
"I knew I could kick the ball real far, and the soccer coach (DonHobbs) said I should go out for football," he said.
Oliver began the 1988 season on the junior varsity, but soon moved up to the varsity after booting a 43-yard field goal during homecoming.
Now, he'sa county record-holder.
His 32-yard field goal against Arundel last week gave him six onthe season, eclipsing the mark of five set by the Wildcats' Bryan Beauchemin in 1985.
"I wasn't even aware of itmyself," Coach Pete Regala said. "He's the one who told me, 'Hey, coach, you know that was a record?' "
The Crownsville resident had already shattered his own school kicking record for points in a season, with 31.
"He has a good, live foot on him," Regala said.
Being a former kicker himself at Towson State University (1969-1971), Regala especially can appreciate Oliver's talent. And the security that comes with it.
"It's comforting to know, when you're in a situation where you need three points, you can put points on the board. It gives you another dimension," he said.
"It's real important for them(kickers) to have an opportunity, to give it a shot on the field within their distance. And Steve has good distance."
And better accuracy. He's perfect from inside 39 yards and is 6-of-12 overall, including a 38-yard shot against Broadneck two weeks ago.
Though the kick against the Bruins is his longest of the season, the day isn't remembered fondly. Oliver had a punt blocked in the fourth quarter that resulted in a Broadneck touchdown and a 6-3 upset, the Patriots' only loss this season heading into tonight's crucial 4A League game at Annapolis.
"It wasn't his fault as much as it was poor blocking," Regala said.
Overall, he's made a positive contribution as a punter, averaging 37 yards an attempt and twice pinning Meade inside its 5 ina win last month. But he only does so out of necessity.
"I'm not the best punter around. I won't tell anybody that. Ijust do it because I'm the best on our team," he said.
"I really like place-kickingmore than anything."
He's had more chances to do so this season after getting only two tries last year because of Old Mill's propensity for scoring touchdowns. He made a 33-yarder against Glen Burnie in a 16-7 victory Nov. 9 that clinched the Patriots' first-ever regionalchampionship, but missed from 26 yards away in a 17-7 loss to ThomasWootton in the Class 4A state quarterfinals.
Like a couple of histeammates, Oliver was nursing a leg injury in the Wootton game, and his first-quarter attempt hooked to the left. Wootton scored on its next possession and never trailed.
"I just had to shake that off and go back in. And I made an extra-point later on," he said.
Olivermissed eight of 32 extra-point attempts last fall, after going 19-of-19 and being chosen first-team All-County as a sophomore. It was a strange and unexpected slump that left the Old Mill coaching staff perplexed.
"He seemed to have too many things going through his head.But he's come around this year. It's maturity, I guess," Regala said.
"He also has a young kid behind him on the JV (junior Wes Whalen), which kind of put the push on him. Competition brings out the bestin everybody."
As do the football camps that Oliver attended during the summer -- one each at the Naval Academy and in Florida. He's made 13 of 14 extra-point kicks this year, the lone miss being a blockagainst Meade.
He also benefits from the accurate snapping of center Austin Johnson and the precise holds of quarterback Tim Newby. "We can get the ball off in about 1.7 seconds. We got it down to 1.1 seconds the last game," Oliver said.
Whatever kicks he's missed thisyear have been excusable, like a 47-yarder that landed on the 1 against Broadneck in the teeth of a strong wind.
"I told him it was a good punt," Regala said, laughing. "The wind changed the next quarterand he probably would have made it."