Those long Franklin field goals are courtesy of soccer castoff Schaffer

On High Schools

High Schools

October 05, 2004|By MILTON KENT

AT EVERY LEVEL of football, place-kickers are like a car's spare tire, in that they take up valuable space and are usually smaller than the genuine article.

But, as Franklin is finding out this season, a good kicker, like a good spare tire, can often be the most valuable apparatus you can have, when the time calls for it.

Talk of senior David Schaffer's knack for hitting from distance is making the rounds among Baltimore County coaches who whisper his praises while scouting pending opponents.

This year, Schaffer connected from 42 yards to force a tie in the season opener against New Town, then hit a relative chip-shot 23-yarder in overtime to win.

It's unfair, obviously, to compare the skill level of professionals to that of high schoolers, but it's instructive to note how many two-point conversions are attempted in the NFL and even college football, relative to high school.

At the upper levels of football, two-point tries are usually strategic. On many high school teams, they are virtual necessities because there just aren't enough proven legs, much less solid holders and snappers, to have a good kicking game.

The problem for Schaffer and for Franklin, is that, like a Ferrari Testarossa that sits in the garage waiting to tear up the highways, the Indians offense can't get into enemy territory enough to put his leg to use.

Schaffer hit Franklin's only points - a 31-yard, third-quarter field goal - in the Indians' 21-3 loss to Catonsville on Saturday. He also had all of Franklin's points - field goals from 20 and 42 yards out - in the 28-6 loss the week before to Towson.

Schaffer is perhaps the most reliable part of the Franklin attack, but at 5 feet 10 and 150 pounds, the most unlikely as well.

His presence on the football team comes quite by accident. He was cut from the soccer team going into his junior year. Schaffer said he was heading for the badminton team, to join other wayward former soccer players.

Then, the fickle finger of fate stepped in, and soccer coach Ian Reed talked Schaffer up to the football coach, Anthony Burgos, who was more than happy to welcome him.

"I don't think he took it [the offer to play football] seriously at that moment," Burgos said. "This is the perfect example of a kid taking a negative and turning it into a positive. If more kids can take that example [and understand] that just because something didn't go your way, you can still bounce back."

Schaffer's parents, meanwhile, forbade him from playing any football position other than kicker, a fact that he relates with a look of chagrin.

It took a little time for Schaffer, who has a 3.27 grade-point average to go with a 1,200 score on the SAT, to pick up the rhythms and nuances of football, but he has been a quick study. During the summer, Schaffer attended a camp at Penn State to work on his mechanics, and the payoff is evident.

"[In soccer] there's always an opportunity for a person on your team to get the ball or for you to get a rebound," Schaffer said. "Here [in football], the ball's there. Get it through the uprights. There's no opportunity for second shots. It's a one-time thing, and if I miss, I miss. There's no way I can correct it. I just hope that the next time, it's better."

Schaffer is a bit like a lights-out closer on a sorry baseball team, a luxury. Burgos, in his second season at Franklin, is building a program virtually from scratch, with a lot of youth and inexperience.

For instance, there are four first-year starters on the offensive line. The quarterback is only in his second season as a signal-caller and the wide receiver, Jesus Acosta, is 6-3 and around 200 pounds with, as the coach puts it, "unbelievable" jumping ability.

But Acosta is a star on the Franklin boys basketball team and is being introduced to football. In other words, he is raw and makes a few mistakes.

"We've been working on just getting guys motivated," Burgos said. "They've been hitting the weight room. It's frustrating when we lose ballgames, but I just have to remember that we're moving in the right direction. We have the support of the school, the athletic department and the principal. We just have to keep plugging at it and hope things bounce our way. I see things turning around quickly."

Unless things turn around quickly this year, Franklin is likely headed for a losing season. And, while Schaffer is a team player, he also wants a chance to do something special. He has been able to hit 50-yarders consistently in practice and wants to try a 60-yarder, which would be a state record.

If nothing else, Schaffer has proven to be more than an oddity, more than an extra wheel.

"Last year, I got a lot of, "Oh, he's just a kicker,'" Schaffer said. "I got a lot of `soccer boy,' and `soccer player.' This year, I fit into the team a lot more, and as I proved myself to be a part of the team, I feel like I get respect."

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