A blue-chip high school offensive lineman or defensive back can – if he chooses – take a more passive approach to the recruiting process. If you’re among the better players in the state at those positions, you’ll be able to sit back and let the college coaches come to you.
Kickers live in a different world. Even if you’re one of the better kickers in the state, as is the case for McGregor senior Joanly Martinez, you must take an active role in finding a college football home. Honestly, it’s as much about the player recruiting the school as it is the school recruiting the player.
“It’s a weird deal, because they’ve really got to showcase their skills,” McGregor coach Judd Thrash said. “As far as Joanly, he does a really good job at it. He kicks out here extra, makes videos and things like that on his own. But kickers are almost always last (on college teams’ recruiting boards), and schools have a different approach, how to split up their scholarships for that. Some small colleges don’t even have a kicking coach in place. It’s very different than all of the other positions.”
For many a Division I program, the kicker doesn’t even factor into their scholarship plans, despite 85 scholarships with which to work. A lot of D-I schools will seek out kickers and punters to join their programs as an invited walk-on. Then, if those players perform up to snuff, they’ll be offered scholarships later.
“Most big schools don’t use a scholarship on a kicker, which to me is kind of wrong, because you need to use a scholarship on someone who is consistent and can put points on the board,” Martinez said.
So the kickers – as well as punters and long snappers – have to beat a path to those colleges’ doors. In the 21st century, this is often done digitally. Kickers like McGregor’s Martinez view the highlight video as an essential tool in letting schools know about their abilities. Additionally, most kickers will also put together a one-cut video showing them attempting field goals from various distances.
Martinez’s film, for instance, shows him pounding kicks from 30, 35, 40, 42, 47, 52 and 57 yards away. Sometimes he attempted multiple kicks at a certain distance, either from the left or right hash or from the middle of the field. The only editing Martinez did to the video was occasionally speeding up the action while he teed up the next kick, as well as inserting text to let the viewer know the kick’s distance and placement.
On each of his 12 kicks, he split the uprights.
“I was trying to have a good spin on the ball, keep it over the posts and don’t miss,” said Martinez, who admitted that the video took him two takes to complete. On the first, he went 10-for-12.
A great kicker can be a difference maker, and Martinez certainly filled that role for McGregor. The Super Centex performer made 7 of 10 field goal tries for the Bulldogs as a senior, as well as all 28 of his point-after attempts. In practice, he has cleared the crossbar from as far away as 63 yards, though he said his in-game range probably tops out at 52 yards, depending on the wind.
Thrash recalled one game against Rockdale where the Bulldogs were able to stay within striking range of the eventual state champion Tigers for a while because of three perfectly-punched onside kicks from Martinez.
“He kicks about as good as your 5A and 6A kickers,” Thrash said. “He’s definitely a weapon at this level. We used him every chance we got.”
But because scholarship opportunities are so sparse, Martinez hasn’t had college coaches texting him left and right about trying to set up an on-campus visit. More often, the reverse is true.
“You really have to search schools, see how the depth chart is,” Martinez said.
Martinez made his first visit to Southwestern University last weekend. Located in Georgetown, the Pirates compete in NCAA Division III, which does not offer athletic scholarships, only grants and other financial aid. This weekend Martinez is visiting Division II Tarleton State in Stephenville.
Martinez hopes to commit to one of those two schools and sign on Wednesday, the start of the spring signing period for football. He plans to consider various criteria before making his decision – the location of the school, the chance for playing time, the connection he felt with the coaches and players.
But, mostly, it will come down to which school can best fund his college education.
“College is expensive. If I can get money to kick, I’m going to take that,” Martinez said.
Martinez keeps a close eye on what other kickers around the state are doing. He has attended numerous kicking camps over the past four years, so he has gotten to know his cleat-wearing comrades and built up friendships.
So, when he notices on Twitter that one of those players has committed to a school, Martinez often sends out a congratulatory tweet in reply.
“Being a kicker is kind of like being in a fraternity,” Martinez said. “You have to stay connected, because there’s not too many people who take you seriously. You have to stay together. Even though maybe the guy you kicked with (at a camp) is kicking against you one week, you still pull for him.”
Martinez hopes that, soon enough, some of his kicker pals (as well as his friends and teammates at McGregor) will be able to send such well wishes his way. It’s been a long process getting college teams to notice him – he considers it far more stressful than a game-winning field goal try – but the journey seems headed for a fruitful conclusion.
“Being a kicker, there’s highs and lows,” Martinez said. “Sometimes you just get stressed out because nobody has really contacted you. But you just have to trust it. It’s been kind of hard trusting it, especially at the beginning of senior year. But I’ve stuck with it.”