Kicker helps Hopkins one foot at a time

He punts with his left, place-kicks with right

October 25, 2003|By Kent Baker | Kent Baker,SUN STAFF

Chris Smolyn knows how to put his best foot forward.

In this era of extreme specialization, the Johns Hopkins kicker goes both ways, punting with his left foot and place-kicking with his right.

And Smolyn's feet could be a major factor today when the 7-0 Blue Jays risk their two-season, 11-game winning streak in Allentown, Pa., against Muhlenberg in a battle that will go a long way toward deciding the Centennial Conference championship.

"I didn't start kicking until I was 12 or 13 and I can't even remember when I didn't do it this way," said Smolyn of his two-sided approach that might be unprecedented in college football. "I can't even tell you how it happened. It just did."

The senior from Stanhope, N.J., was "recruited that way" according to Hopkins special teams coach Frank Colaprete. "We saw him doing that in high school. Usually, a person has a dominant foot and leg. His is a unique quality."

Smolyn said he admired kickers when he was a youth, particularly Matt Bahr, a standout for his favorite NFL team, the New York Giants. And, although he has flirted with playing at tight end in high school and as collegian, he has remained basically a kicker - despite a strapping 6-foot-3, 275-pound frame.

"I came in with the knowledge this year that I was going to play tight end," he said. "I was 260 pounds, a little faster and with the same strength. But I don't think the coaches want me to get hurt."

As a punter last season, Smolyn became the first Blue Jay to average more than 35 yards a kick, a trend he is continuing now (35.7 a try, with the team net of 32.4 tops in the league). He scored 50 points on eight field goals and 26 extra points in 2002, made the all-conference second team and scored the first playoff points in Hopkins history with a 32-yard field goal.

This fall, he has 30 points, nine on field goals, 21 on extra points.

"As a place-kicker, he is straight on, Lou Groza style," said Colaprete. "He wears the boot with the square toe. But because he punts left-footed, he doesn't have to worry about changing shoes. He's got one on both feet.

"I think he's wanted to play a position, but he knows his role."

Smolyn, who played at Lenape Valley (N.J.) High for his father, Don, said when he plays basketball, "I dribble with my left hand and shoot with my right. I don't want to make it sound like ambidextrous. That's just the way I do it."

Because of his size, Smolyn said, "the officials really don't like me. I don't think I've ever gotten a roughing-the-punter penalty.

"Guys just run into me and bounce off."

He said he tried confining all his kicking to one foot during the summer, but the results were "something people would laugh at. I doubt if I got anything over 20 yards with the other foot."

A student in international studies who aspires to work for the State Department or in foreign service, Smolyn said he needs a long warm-up before he can take any kicks but "when I get a really long kick, I like to credit my weight."

For today, Smolyn has explicit instructions about his punting toward Muhlenberg's Kodi Shay, who leads Division III in all-purpose yards and averages 21 yards each time he touches the ball.

"My orders are not to punt him the ball," said Smolyn.

The game could come down to his place-kick attempt, and he is quick to point out that holder Steve Eno and snapper Jake Kial have played a large role in his success this season.

"I'll be upset with anything less than a win," said Smolyn. "Everyone on the team expected us to be here [unbeaten]. If the pressure to do that is put on me, I wouldn't mind. I'm more than willing to take my shot."

Obviously, Smolyn is ready to jump into crunch time with both feet.

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