Football on a soccer-style kick New players give their teams leg up

November 10, 1993|By Chuck Acquisto | Chuck Acquisto,Contributing Writer

In football, where a team's offensive success is measured in yards, the difference between a win and a loss often comes down to just a foot.

In soccer-rich Howard County, four first-year place-kickers decided the outcomes of several key games late in the season.

County champion and 13th-ranked Howard (9-1), Hammond (7-3), Glenelg (8-2) and Oakland Mills (5-5) placed a much stronger emphasis on kicking by offering disenchanted soccer players a roster spot that requires only their legwork and plenty of it.

"Today's trend is to have a kid that kicks and that's it," Hammond coach Joe Russo said, adding that coaches now realize that summer kicking camps and more practice time devoted to special teams pay dividends in close games.

Hammond senior place-kicker Neil Arnold made two game-winning field goals.

"He's such a great asset because he brings that extra scoring punch at the end of the game," Russo said.

Arnold's success has him contemplating pursuit of a chance to kick in college.

Early in the season, Arnold converted a fourth-quarter, 27-yard field goal that enabled Hammond to slip by Good Counsel, 3-0.

However, Arnold's biggest football moment came against perennial county champion Wilde Lake. Trailing the Wildecats 14-13 with seconds left in the game, Arnold kicked a 37-yard field goal as time expired to send the Golden Bears' home crowd into a frenzy and Class 1A-playoff bound Wilde Lake (5-5) into a midseason slump.

"I knew I could make it [from 37 yards] because I had done it in practice," Arnold said. "It helps to specialize at this position because you can spend so much more time in practice stretching to improve your distance and accuracy. My distance in practice is now 45 or 50 yards when it used to be 35."

Howard coach John Quinn is thankful he listened to his players' recruiting advice.

"All last winter, after the season ended, my players kept telling me about this kid who used to play soccer who could really kick the ball," Quinn said. "Fortunately for me, he just happened to be in the class I teach and we talked about his coming out for the team."

After giving then-junior Andy Holloway a tryout, Quinn sent the potential Lions kicker to the University of Maryland for a rising-senior skills workout last spring.

"He was incredibly impressive there and clearly had one of the strongest legs on display," said Quinn, who will work hard this off-season to try to get Holloway a walk-on opportunity.

Holloway, who also punted for a county-leading 39.4-yard average, had little opportunity to kick field goals during the regular season thanks to the 13 touchdowns that tailback Guy Smith scored.

However, the kicker finally got his chance to display his range in Friday's 46-0 win over Mount Hebron, which helped secure a spot in the state playoffs.

With a 36-0 lead, Quinn sent Holloway out to attempt a 40-yarder. Holloway split the uprights, but a procedure penalty pushed the Lions back 5 yards. Holloway wasn't fazed. His second attempt from 45 yards cleared the crossbar with 4 or 5 yards to spare.

"Against Glenelg, he was kicking them [extra points] out of the stadium," Quinn said.

Glenelg coach Ed Ashwell benefited from an exchange student: Pierre Grenier, a 5-foot-11, 165-pound senior from France.

"He speaks very little English and knew very little about football, but he really wanted to play the sport instead of soccer," Ashwell said.

Ashwell said Grenier's lack of understanding of the importance of game situations and how crucial each extra-point or field-goal try can be was a psychological benefit.

Grenier's memorable moment was a 23-yard field goal on a rain-soaked home field in overtime to beat county Class 2A rival Hammond, 3-0, late in the season.

"He's not nervous out there because he doesn't comprehend every aspect. Against Centennial, he had to make all the extra points in order for us to win and he made all three of them," Ashwell said.

While Arnold, Holloway and Grenier enjoyed their one season of football glory, Oakland Mills coach Ken Hovet may have found a future force in freshman Victor Rivera.

With the Scorpions' special teams struggling after the first regular-season game, Hovet decided he needed another kicker. He relied on the advice of a good friend whose nephew, Rivera, just happened to have moved from Baranquilla, Colombia, to Columbia.

"He strictly has a soccer background and had never seen a football until he came here," Hovet said. "But he didn't think soccer here was rough enough, so I gave him a try and he impressed me."

Rivera's first game, against Thomas Johnson High, was uneventful. After kicking off to start the second half, Rivera never returned to the field as the visiting Patriots shut out Oakland Mills.

Rivera, however, played a critical role in helping the Scorpions upset rival Wilde Lake. As Oakland Mills rallied for two second-half touchdowns, Rivera converted each extra point to extend the game into overtime.

"Then when we scored in OT, he really didn't realize how crucial his extra point was," Hovet said.

"He just ran out there on the field and took care of business. But it was the game-winning difference when Wilde Lake went for two points and failed."

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