Fast forward to the 21st Century. Place kickers in the NFL are highly paid and depended upon greatly to get their team's three points in crucial situations. This situation has since filtered down to the college ranks and now even to the high school football teams. How important is the place kicker on the high school level. Think about this. Just 2 years ago, Central Dauphin's Tony Bernatos set state records for most extra points in a career (150), most extra points in a season (71), most kicking points in a season (101), and most kicking points in a career (225). All of these records were broken between the 2000 and 2003 seasons. To top it off, Bishop Hoban's Gerry McGroarty booted a 64-yard field goal to set a state record last year
That is what has transpired in the kicking game on the high school level, and each year, we see new kickers emerge on to high school scene and this coming season will be no different.
One of the premier kickers in Pennsylvania is actually a three-year veteran who also happened to be a member of Neshaminy's Class AAAA PIAA Championship team in 2001. Kevin Kelly was only a freshman that year, but contribute he did! He knocked home 6 field goals and 32 out of 40 extra points for a total of 50 points for the Redskins as they completed an undefeated season and captured the gold crown in Hershey with a 21-7 convincing victory over a very strong Woodland Hills team.
Kevin Kelly started his athletic career as a soccer player when he was only four years old. He made a decision before entering high school to give up soccer to concentrate on football. Heading into his 9th grade year, he knew that he was going to kick on the varsity and his coach, Mark Schmidt, knew that Kelly had something special. He said, "We actually discovered Kevin at a youth camp for 3rd graders to 8th graders. My assistant came over to me and say, "Come here, you have to take a look at this kid. He can kick the heck out of the football." The rest is history. We brought him up to the varsity and he started for us that year. Coincidentally, that year we won it all. We went 15-0 and Kevin had a great year for a freshman."
This was not an easy decision since Neshaminy has a rule that a freshman can only be brought up to play varsity if her is going to be a starter. This was going to be the case with Kevin Kelly in 2001. They call it the "Super Frosh" rule at the school.
Kelly enjoyed that season and the next two seasons, although the Redskins didn't repeat as PIAA champions, Kelly's leg kept getting stronger and stronger. He realizes that is one of the key ingredients for a successful kicker.
"I spend a lot of time in the weight room knowing that I need to get stronger if I want to kick at the next level. I spend an average of two hours a day kicking a football, and I do a lot of squats to get my legs stronger. Lifting weights has made me a much stronger kicker."
Schmidt added, "Kevin has made himself a great kicker. He squats around 475 pounds now, and he isn't that big a kid. He's around 5' 9" and weighs around 175 pounds. Let me add that Kevin is truly a gifted all-around athletic. In practice, he runs pass routes, acts as our scout quarterback, and just does a lot of things beside kick a football. Yes, he's quite a kid."
When Kelly was a freshman and was brought up to the varsity, star tailback, Jamar Brittingham, took him under his wing and proclaimed him self to be Kelly's "Agent". It was a fun thing for everyone and made Kelly feel very comfortable with his being on the varsity as a freshman. He felt that he fit right in that year even though it could have been a very intimidating experience for a young freshman.
Schmidt also contended that the reason that Kelly was successful in his first three years was his demeanor. He stated, "Kevin never gets down on himself when he misses a kick. Yes, he feels badly for the team, but knows that it isn't the end of the world if he misses a kick every now and then. He has worked so hard along with his dad who takes him all over the place to kick. He definitely has made himself a better kicker over the years."
He added, "I would never hesitate to use Kevin in any crucial situation in a game. I have that much confidence in him. I know that he has a shot to make any field goal within reason and I'll let him try to get us three points anytime."
That, in itself, says a lot about Kelly, since Schmidt has been in the coaching ranks for quite some time. He served 12 years as an assistant at Norristown High School, the University of Pennsylvania, and Temple University before becoming the head mentor at Neshaminy. He will enter his 10th year as head coach for the Redskins and is looking forward to another solid year from his team. He knows that his league (Suburban One) is arguably the best Class AAAA conference in the state, and he can use every weapon that he can muster, including a strong place kicker.
Although very young, Kelly has seen some changes over the years, as far as the kicking game is concerned. He said, "I can remember hearing and reading about the Bahr brothers (Matt and Chris). They put kicking on the map in this area and probably the entire state. They were each one-of-a-kind even in an age where they may have attempted two or three field goals in an entire season. They both moved on to college and to the NFL where they had outstanding careers in the pros. There were kind of like an inspiration to me."
He also mentioned that, "a football game is now divided into three parts, offense, defense, and special teams, and is glad that the special teams have been given as much notice as the other two".
The kicking game has, indeed, evolved into an important piece of a puzzle for any game at any level, and Kelly has risen to the top as far as understanding and performing at a higher level. Because of his commitment to kicking, the congenial Kelly has already received five scholarship offers. The offers on the table are from, Indiana, Kent State, Delaware, Syracuse, and West Virginia. He expects a few more before the season is over and is no hurry to make his decision right now. He wants to see what happens as the season progresses.
He said, "I want to be comfortable with my decision. That is probably the most important thing for me right now. I would like to study Sports Management and all the schools that have already offered have good programs in that field. I am in no big hurry to make a decision at this time. I'll play this year and see how it all plays out for me."
Kelly has gone to several kicking camps over the years and thinks that the David Ackers and the Ray Guy Camps have been the most helpful for him over the years. He is also coached at the school by Mike Roman, a former collegiate All-American soccer player. Roman also happens to be Coach Schmidt's father-in-law. Although he isn't considered a full time coach, he does stop by the practices at least once a week and gives Kelly a few pointers that have made him into a better kicker.
Kelly has improved a lot since he was a freshman and the awards and accolades have come with his improvements. In the year 2001, he was, of course, a member of the Class AAAA PIAA Championship team. He was also named as the Suburban One League, Patriot Division, First Team Kicker. He also won the following awards: Bucks County Courier Times Golden Team First Team Kicker, The Trentonian All-Area First Team Kicker, and the Pennsylvania Football News Class AAAA Honorable Mention Place kicker.
In his sophomore year, he achieved the following: Member of the Class AAAA PIAA playoff team, Suburban One League – Patriot Division – First team Place kicker, Bucks County Courier Times Golden Team – First Team Place kicker, The Trentonian All-Area First Team Place kicker, Associated Press Big School Third team Place kicker, the Pennsylvania Football News Class AAAA Third Team Place kicker, and the Studentsports.com Sophomore All-American Team.
Last season, he was a member of the Neshaminy Redskins 11 (11 strongest players based on body weight). He bench-pressed 250 pounds, Squatted 450 pounds, and Power Cleaned 235 Pounds.
He was also named to the following: Suburban One league – Patriot Division – First Team Place kicker, Bucks County Courier Times Golden Team – First team Place Kicker, The Trentonian – All Area First Team Place kicker, the Philadelphia Inquirer Southeast PA, First Team Place kicker, And Pennsylvania Football News Honorable Mention Class AAAA Place kicker.
He currently holds a 3.0 GPA and has recorded a 980 on his SAT's. His hobbies include collecting Baseball Cards, playing on his Play Station, and listening to music. His favorite artists include Jack Johnson and Black Eyed Peas.
He was a two-year starter on the Redskin's baseball team, batting .350 as a sophomore and .380 as a junior. He isn't committed to playing baseball this spring, because he may want to develop his kicking even more so, but he could change his mind before then.
The left-footed kicker has a unique goal for this season and it has nothing to do with personal achievements. It does have everything to do with helping the team. His goal is to hit 100% of his kickoffs into the end zone for touchbacks. He knows that every time he does that, the opponent has 80 yards to score. That puts a lot of pressure on the opposing team and puts less pressure on his team. His range is anywhere between 55 and 60 yards when kicking off a tee, and he feels that he is actually more consistent off the ground than he is off the tee, so he is going to use a shorter tee this season.
Schmidt's final assessment pretty much sums up his overall feeling for the kicker. He stated, "First and foremost, Kevin is a terrific kid. He is real friendly and gets along very well with his peers. He is extremely talented and he keeps getting better and better each year. He's a great athlete, and he is definitely going to be hard to replace next year."
Of course, a coach's relationship with his players is always two-fold, and Kelly has just as much respect and admiration for Schmidt as Schmidt has for him. He related, "Coach Schmidt is a great guy, and off the field, he is really a funny guy, but on the field he is all business once the game starts. We have fun in practice too, but game time, he becomes pretty serious. It has certainly been a pleasure to have played under him and will continue to be this year."
While Kelly is looking forward to another highly successful year in 2004, he also realizes that his success is greatly hinged on the success of his team. He knows that he is just one part of the Redskin football team, but the Redskin's fans know that he is a very integral part of that team and can count on him when they need him in any crucial situation.
We wish to thank the Pennsylvania Football News for allowing us to run this article from their most recent print edition. The Pennsylvania Football News is the most widely read and respected publication covering Pennsylvania High School football, and we're happy to continue our association with them!