Morgan State kicker Scarlett takes aim at NFL career

Jamaica native, known for long kicks, started playing football in 2003 and sharpened his skills using YouTube videos

April 23, 2011|By Ken Murray, THE BALTIMORE SUN

Kemar Scarlett is Jamaican-born, YouTube-trained and decidedly not the norm when it comes to kicking specialists.

What separates Scarlett, 21, is that he is African-American — there was only one black punter in the NFL last season and no black kickers. That and the fact he has had very little coaching as a kicker since he arrived in the United States in 2003 at the age of 13 and began the transition from soccer to football.

But sometime after the NFL draft later this week Scarlett hopes to get the chance to prove he can kick with the best in the land.

It's a tall ambition, but one he has been working diligently toward since Potomac High's football coach pulled him off the cross country team in September 2003 and made him the kicker for the Prince George's County program two days before a game.

Despite his long-ball credentials — Scarlett has kicked a 55-yard field goal to tie a Mid-Eastern Athletic Association record and a 52-yarder for Morgan State — he isn't expected to be drafted this week. More probably, he will get a tryout once the league's work stoppage ends and teams are allowed to sign free agents again.

"I already came to terms with that," Scarlett said of his slim draft prospects. "It doesn't deter me from trying to make it."

Little has deterred Scarlett, in fact.

Not the "de-cleating" hit he took from an opposing blocker on his first kickoff in his first game at Potomac (he deftly avoided the guy the next kickoff, once he knew the rules).

Not the loss of a full scholarship to Bowie State that left him scrambling for a college to play for in June 2007 (he joined two high school teammates at West Hills Community College in Colinga, Calif.).

And certainly not the torn meniscus in his left knee, the one he plants with on kicks, during training camp last August at Morgan (he had surgery to remove the torn cartilage and was playing for the Bears two weeks later).

Scarlett has been proficient at beating the odds throughout his career. At 6 feet, 192 pounds, he regularly drove kickoffs inside the 5-yard line and consistently delivered field goals from long distances. He converted 27 of 36 career field-goal attempts in two seasons at Morgan for a 75 percent success rate.

In fact, Scarlett changed the way Morgan coach Donald Hill-Eley looked at his own kicking game — and the way opponents viewed Morgan.

"We used him as if we were a bowl-division team or an NFL team," Hill-Eley said. "Anytime you're at the 35-yard line, you have a good chance to get three points. It changed the way in which people tried to defend us, too."

Taught by YouTube

Through sheer dedication and with knowledge acquired as if by osmosis, Scarlett has forced his name into the discussion of NFL draft sleepers. When he first started playing at Potomac, he didn't know what a field goal was worth or even when he was supposed to go onto the field.

He taught himself to kick by watching videos on YouTube and by watching promotional videos for various kicking camps. One of his NFL favorites to watch was Adam Vinatieri of the Indianapolis Colts.

"I'd watch a segment on placement of the ball," Scarlett said. "One video I watched, the guy put tape where he wanted to hit the ball every time. So I did that. I put tape on the ball, kicked four times, took the tape off, kicked again, and it worked."

Scarlett has not been to a kicking camp, but he said he plans to attend one this summer — a college senior specialists combine with Gary Zauner, a former Ravens special teams coach who is now a guru in Arizona for young kickers.

Zauner is aware of Scarlett only through the recent ESPN The Magazine article he was interviewed for.

"With a guy like him, if you've got all the physical tools — and he seems to have a lot of physical tools — sometimes no coaching is better than bad coaching," Zauner said. "If he has talent, you can get him that coaching."

Scarlett has a simple explanation for his success despite the limited oversight.

"I think it's repetition, going to practice and doing it every day," he said. "It's like muscle memory, training your body to do it. … I've been playing soccer since I was 5. On my father's side of the family, every uncle I have played soccer."

It was a tip he got in high school from a friend of a coach that pointed Scarlett in the right direction.

"He came in one day and said, 'Don't kick it soccer-style, with the instep,' " Scarlett said. "He said, 'Use the inside of your foot for more accuracy with it, and you'll get more height.' That's the most training I got in high school. After that, it was me."

Breaking barriers

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