When Kiefer is kicking, St. Mary's is looking good Saints have a leg up on foes

September 20, 1993|By Roch Eric Kubatko | Roch Eric Kubatko,Staff Writer

When St. Mary's football team has been confronted with fourth-and-short situations, "we've gone for it at times," coach Brad Best said.

In other instances, the Saints have played it safe and called on place-kicker Mark Kiefer. That usually proves to be the better option.

Last year, Kiefer kicked a school-record six field goals and 22 extra points to earn first-team All-County and second-team All-Metro honors. Displaying accuracy and leg strength, he split the uprights from 45 yards away against Archbishop Curley and from 37 yards against Southwestern and made both conversion kicks in a 14-13 upset of Calvert Hall.

What will the 6-foot-1, 165-pounder do for an encore as a senior? So far, just about anything he chooses.

Kiefer had a 39-yard field goal in a 10-0 season-opening win over Nansemond-Suffolk Academy, and he made a 20-yard field goal and two conversion kicks in a 17-0 win over South River last week. He's also a starting wide receiver and a back-up defensive end.

Saturday, he kicked a 35-yard field goal and three extra points in a 24-12 victory over Severn School, as the Saints remained undefeated. At this pace, the Annapolis resident might break the county record of nine field goals in a season by Old Mill graduate Steve Oliver.

Kiefer also is a threat to eclipse Arundel graduate Bryan Beauchemin's record for the longest field goal -- a 48-yarder against Severna Park in 1985. In practice, Kiefer routinely hits from beyond 50 yards.

"I'm very comfortable using him from 45 yards and in," Best said. "And if the situation arises and it's a little longer, I'm not afraid to take my chances with him. We attempted eight field goals last year, and I can see us doing more this year. I'll definitely use him to our advantage.

"Mark has three things definitely going for him. He has a very strong leg, his technique is very good and . . . he has a strong, positive mental approach."

Few kickers can survive without one -- at any level. In the same week that the NFL's Dallas Cowboys held auditions to find a replacement for Lin Elliott, who missed two field goals in last Sunday's loss to the Buffalo Bills, Kiefer spoke of the pressures that accompany the job.

"The idea is to make every practice like a game situation, and every game situation like a practice," he said. "There's probably more pressure on me this year because of what I did last year. I missed a short one, like from 30 yards, against South River, and I got all worried.

"I really haven't had a chance to kick a winning field goal, but I probably will against some of these [Maryland Scholastic Association] A Conference teams."

As a freshman, Kiefer often practiced with Saints kicker Charlie Griffith, though he was a wide receiver on the junior varsity. He got a late start for tryouts the following year because of a commitment to play baseball in the Babe Ruth World Series in Missouri and had to begin another season on the JV.

That time, his stay didn't last long. "He kicked so well that we had to bring him up," Best said.

Kiefer had just one attempt that season, from 40 yards in a homecoming game against Boys' Latin. And he made it.

It wasn't pretty -- not many kicks look good in a driving rainstorm -- but it counted just the same.

"It was on the left hash mark and it barely squeaked over," he said. "But we won the game."

His success last season has drawn the attention of college scouts, and Best said, "If he keeps kicking the way he does, the offers will be there."

"I've gotten a lot of letters," said Kiefer, who also plays basketball at St. Mary's, "but I really haven't talked to anybody. I just worry about winning games this year and doing the best I can, and things will take care of themselves."

Kiefer attended some kicking camps during the summer, and the benefits have shown mostly in his punting. Going into Saturday's game, he was averaging 52.3 yards, including one blast of 73 yards against Nansemond-Suffolk.

"It went at least 50 yards in the air. It's not like it went 10 yards and rolled for 60," Best said. "His hang time has been consistently over four seconds."

Kiefer's father was a punter at St. Mary's, "so it's kind of natural for me," he said.

A place-kicker is only as good as his holder, and Kiefer gives plenty of credit to St. Mary's junior Mike Pagliaro, who has taken the snaps since Kiefer's sophomore year.

Together, they have formed a winning combination that gives Best an option not available to most coaches.

"Once we get to the 30," Best said, "I know we'll come out of it with some points."

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