49ers getting a kick from Mexican star

The 49ers keep bringing in training-camp competition at specialty areas where they seemingly are already set. But in the case of Luis Berlanga – who comes with quite a reputation in his homeland Mexico – the question most definitely is, "Why?"

With ninth-year veteran Joe Nedney coming off a standout 2005 season that earned him team co-MVP honors and a four-year, $6.055 million deal in March that entrenches him as the team's kicker of the present and immediate future, the 49ers already know who will be handling their kickoff, field goal and PAT duties this season.

And they already signed a young kicker earlier this summer to give Nedney some competition in training camp this summer – or, in reality, to give Nedney's valuable left leg an occasional rest during the grind of two-a-day camp practices. That's Fort Valley State product Andrew Jacas, who has no chance to make the roster but didn't do anything to embarrass himself during San Francisco's spring workouts.

But the Niners went ahead anyway on Wednesday and signed Berlanga to join their kicking crowd in summer camp. That move could pave the way for Jacas' exit from the roster before camp practices begin July 28.

Earlier this summer, the 49ers signed veteran punter Tom Rouen to provide training camp competition for incumbent Andy Lee, even though Lee has proven to be a solid performer who has displayed consistent development at the position during his two seasons in the NFL.

If nothing else, Berlanga brings some intrigue as a kicking prospect after earning Division II All-American second-team honors following a 2004 season at Northwest Missouri State during which he set several school records and the NCAA all-divisions single-season record for consecutive PATs made with 73.

A native of Monterrey, Mexico, Berlanga came to America as a foreign exchange student and once booted a 58-yard field goal during his one year of high school football in Colorado. After high school, Berlanga returned to his homeland and played football at Monterrey Tech before coming into contact with kicking coaches from One-on-One Kicking camp in Florida, which was his springboard to college exposure in America. One of his coaches at One-on-One was quoted as boasting that Berlanga, "has the leg of Sebastian Janikowski and the accuracy of Morten Anderson."

That hype remains to be seen, but the 5-foot-9, 190-pound product - who celebrates his 25th birthday on Thursday - has great range and has proven durable in his limited exposure to the American game. Widely considered one of the best field goal kickers in Mexican history, Berlanga has played in the Cactus Bowl, Aztec Bowl and the Mexico All-Stars vs. Division III All Stars game.

But his professional experience so far has been limited to a brief fling in the Arena League with the Columbus Destroyers, who signed Berlanga to their practice squad earlier this year before subsequently releasing him.

Now he'll try to make his biggest career move to date – getting on NFL game film with the 49ers during their preseason games this summer, if he makes it that far.


Niners Digest Top Stories