Local kickers providing a boost to football teams

It was the spring of 2018, and Sherando coaches Bill Hall, Jake Smith and T.J. Rohrbaugh were watching a freshman who had asked to demonstrate his kicking skills attempt to send footballs between two posts standing 18 feet high atop a 10-foot-high crossbar.
“He was 10 for 10 on field goals,” said Hall, who moved Jack Hendren all around Arrowhead Stadium and had him kick from as far away as 45 yards. “I asked if he ever kicked off before, and he said, ‘No.’ We put the ball on the 40, and he kicks the ball [more than 55 yards] down inside the 5 the first time. We were just thinking, ‘You’re hired.’”
Hendren there were some nerves before he went out on the field that day, but it was nothing he couldn’t handle.
“I had come out before with my dad and been making field goals before that, so I was pretty comfortable,” Hendren said.
Hendren’s cool confidence has been on display ever since. As a sophomore in 2018, he earned Class 4 second team all-state honors. He entered this, his junior year, with a 4.5-star rating from Kohl’s — the nation’s premier kicking organization — as a result of his performance at the invitation-only Kohl’s national camp in Wisconsin in July. For juniors, he’s rated as the No. 1 kicker in the state and No. 22 nationally.
And Hendren is just part of a pretty impressive crop of kickers in the Frederick County-Winchester-Clarke County area this year.
The area has produced plenty of outstanding kickers over the years. A couple examples are Andrew Lloyd (James Wood, Eastern Kentucky University) and Tyler Gray (Millbrook, James Madison University), who each stood out at the NCAA Division I level. Currently, Nick Bahamonde (Clarke County) is in the midst of a stretch of four consecutive Liberty League Rookie of the Week honors as a freshman at Ithaca College.
But over the last decade and a half, this might be the best year all-around for kickers who go to high schools in the aforementioned areas.
Since 2014, James Wood, Handley and Millbrook all have at least one season where they preferred to go for two points rather than attempt an extra point. In the early days of Clarke County’s run of 12 straight playoff seasons, the Eagles spent a lot of time going for two points. Sherando has usually had a reliable kicker, but the Warriors usually eschewed attempting field goals for much of the last 15 years, and when they did, they were inside 30 yards.
This year, the primary kickers at Clarke County (senior Kellan Dalton), Handley (junior Adam Pollak), James Wood (junior Chris Garcia), Millbrook (sophomore Pat Sigler) and Sherando all have converted at least one field goal attempt covering 30 yards, not to mention converting 92 percent of their extra points as a group.
And they’re also putting special teams players to sleep and putting a strain on opposing offenses by making them travel farther on the field than they’d like.
Dalton — who was also invited to the national Kohl’s camp — has placed 27 of his 40 kickoffs into the end zone for touchbacks over six games. That’s a remarkably high total given the number of squib and pooch kicks people typically see at high school football games because their kickers simply don’t have the leg to try for the end zone. Though they aren’t always asked to kick deep, Hendren (nine touchbacks) Pollak (eight) and Garcia (three) have each done their part to make opponents start at their own 20-yard line with their kickoffs into the end zone.
Not surprisingly, all of them are varsity soccer players for their respective schools, and the six years or so they spent booting round balls for great distances before taking on the oblong-shaped football have translated well. (Both Garcia, a forward, and Hendren, a midfielder were second team All-Region 4C selections in soccer last year.) All but Dalton plays travel soccer in the fall currently, and none of them mind the hectic schedule that involves at least two days of commitment a week to soccer.
“It can be a lot sometimes with soccer and football,” Hendren said. “But I like keeping busy.”
Their coaches appreciate it.
HendrenHendren starred as a sophomore at Sherando, connecting on 57 of 60 extra points and 3 of 4 field goals, including a 42-yarder against Martinsburg.
Hendren also averaged 52.4 yards per kickoff with eight touchbacks on 83 kickoffs. Oftentimes, it actually worked out better when Hendren didn’t put the ball in the end zone. Players who field the ball inside the 10 often couldn’t return the ball to the 20 because of Hendren’s placement (he’d often put the ball outside the numbers on the field), hang time and Sherando’s excellent coverage.
“Anything inside the 5 is good,” Hall said. “Sometimes a mishit for him, he just pops the ball up a little bit and it goes inside the 5. From a coverage standpoint, it gives your guys time to cover, so that’s a good thing.”
Hendren had never participated in a kicking camp prior to his sophomore season, but since then he’s gone to places like Richmond and Georgia to show off his skills.
His performance at the Kohl’s national camp in Waukesha, Wis., in July, elevated his status remarkably.
In the field goal portion of the camp, Hendren tied for third with one other kicker out of the 196 kickers in the class of 2021 at the camp with 30 out of a possible 36 points. Hendren said campers attempted 27 kicks ranging from 30 to 55 yards, and Hendren made his attempt from 55 yards (his longest in practice is 57 yards). Hendren also made all three of his “pressure” kicks from 40 yards in which he said a bunch of people stood around and made noise to try and distract him.
“I try not to let any of it get in my head,” said Hendren when asked what it was like to go up against many of the nation’s best kickers. “I just go out there and do the best that I can do, and that’s all I can do.”
That attitude has served Hendren well for Sherando this season as he’s taken on an even bigger role for the Warriors. Hall said the Warriors have tried not to use him on defense much because of his value as a kicker, but with multiple defensive backs sidelined Hendren started against Liberty at cornerback last week.
Hendren has made 19 of 20 extra points (he had an attempt blocked against Liberty) and has made 2 of 4 field goals. Though Sherando ultimately lost the game 42-31, Hendren kicked a 43-yard field goal with 9:07 left against Millbrook to put the Warriors up 31-28.
Hall said Hendren is made for pressure-packed moments like that one.
“His demeanor is always the same, no matter the situation,” Hall said. “He doesn’t get rattled at all. He puts in the time, and that confidence transfers to the field. If he wasn’t prepared for those moments then he might get a little anxious.
“We trust he’s going to execute whatever we have. PATs, field goals, a kickoff, whatever, he executes what we’re doing.”
Hendren has nine touchbacks on 27 kickoffs even though Sherando has sometimes had him intentionally kick short. But the touchbacks are up in part because of what Hendren’s doing in the weight room. His max squat last year was 145 pounds, but now it’s up to 245.
Hall said because the position of kicker is such a specialized position, colleges aren’t looking for one every year, so the recruiting for Hendren probably won’t gain full steam until next year. But Hendren wants to play collegiately, and Hall believes he’ll definitely have interest from the Division I level.
“He’s the best kicker we’ve had since I’ve been here,” said Hall, who is in his 16th year as the Warriors’ head coach after serving three years as an assistant prior to that. “He’s going to have opportunities.”
Dalton Dalton transferred to Clarke County last year from Currituck County High School in Barco, part of North Carolina’s Outer Banks. This is the first time since he’s been in high school that he’s been able to show what he can do for his high school team. He wasn’t allowed to kick for Currituck as a freshman and sophomore because soccer is a fall sport in North Carolina, and he couldn’t participate in two sports. Last year, Dalton backed up Bahamonde.
Last year, Clarke County fans got a glimpse of what they’re seeing on a regular basis this year. Dalton had four of his five kickoffs go into the end zone for touchbacks, and he converted all of his extra points.
Dalton walked into a pretty special situation last year. One of Clarke County’s coaches is former James Wood and Bridgewater College standout kicker Chandler DeHaven, and Dalton also got to work with Bahamonde. Dalton said he made a 63-yard field goal in practice on a windy day while working with Bahamonde.
“He really gave me competition and made me a better player,” Dalton said.
Like Hendren, Dalton has also proved himself on the regional and national stage, going to camps in Morgantown, W.Va., New Jersey, Richmond and the Kohl’s National Camp in Wisconsin. Dalton is a four-star kicker according to Kohl’s and is considered one of the top 15 kickers in his class in Virginia.
Dalton (24 of 25 on extra points, 3 of 6 on field goals) only has a long make of 32 yards against Madison County this year but he had a 52-yard attempt against William Monroe that had enough leg and went wide to the left.
Kickoffs is where Dalton stands out the most, though. In that same game against William Monroe, he had a touchback when Clarke County was pushed back to the 30 on its kickoff attempt because of a penalty.
“It feels great every time I get a touchback,” Dalton said. “I feel like I’m helping my team out as much as I can.”
Dalton said the key for him is repetition.
“I try to not get under the ball. I try to hit the sweet spot to lift it and get as much power as I can to try and get it all the way to the end zone,” Dalton said.
Dalton said Clarke County coach Chris Parker has talked to Richmond and James Madison about him, and William & Mary has also expressed interest. At the Division III level, Dalton has visited Bridgewater and been in contact with Christopher Newport.
Parker loves having Dalton on his team.
“It’s a tremendous help,” Parker said. “We can win field position with him. In the past when we would kick off, it would be a rock skipping on a pond. The fastest kid on the other team would pick up the ball full speed, run it back to the 40. They might only have to go half the field, but we’ve taken that element away. It’s a great advantage.”
PollakIn 2017, Handley mostly went for two-point conversions. Second-year head coach Dan Jones, an assistant in 2017, said the Judges needed points in that 2-8 year. Jones said the team couldn’t get the protection-snap-hold-kick combination to come together consistently.
Pollak’s addition last year has provided stability, though. Last year he was 19 of 23 on extra points, made 1 of 2 field goals (a 33-yarder), and had “one or two touchbacks,” according to Pollak.
This year, the starting goalkeeper for Handley’s soccer team has been even better. He’s made 31 of 32 extra points and 2 of 3 field goals (long of 35 yards) to go along with the eight touchbacks. He also routinely hits 50-yard field goals in practice after achieving a best of 40 yards as a freshman on the JV team.
“It’s definitely gone a lot better so far this year compared to last year,” Pollak said. “I’ve continued to be more accurate. I’ve been working with my technique a lot over the years, and that’s made a difference.”
Pollak said he works with Jimmy Kibble, a former Virginia Tech punter and three-time All-Big East selection who played on the Hokies’ 1999 team that lost in the national title game. Kibble works with high school and college athletes, and his son by the same name is a star sophomore kicker at Loudoun County High School.
Pollak said he considers soccer to be his main sport, but he’s enjoying what he gets to do for a 6-0 Judges team.
“The large number of scoring we’ve had has given me the opportunity to kick more and get more experience,” Pollak said.
Jones said Pollak has definitely been a weapon for Handley.
“On a good day, we feel like if we can get to the 25, we have a legitimate shot at a field goal,” Jones said. “If we can put it in the end zone on a kickoff, it makes them have to drive 80 yards. He can also pooch it and squib kick. He gives us a lot of options.”
Garcia Garcia is another kicker who has grown in his second year as a starter. Last year he made 15 of 17 extra points and made his lone field goal attempt, a 39-yarder against Liberty. This year he’s 23 of 25 on extra points and has made all three of his field goal attempts, which all came against Kettle Run on Sept. 27. His long in that game was 38 yards.
Garcia is the only one of the five Frederick County-Winchester-Clarke County kickers who also serves as his team’s primary punter, and he leads the area with a 36.5 average on 17 punts.
Garcia credits James Wood assistant coach Jordan Hartman and James Wood boys’ soccer coach Brian Sullivan for helping refine his technique.
“I was kind of nervous at the beginning last year, but it went better than expected,” Garcia said. “[Hitting that 39-yarder last year] gave me a lot of confidence, and I’ve just kept working at it. It means a lot to be contributing to this team.”
James Wood head coach Ryan Morgan said he’s been a huge help, and the Kettle Run game was an example of the team’s confidence in him.
“It’s nice to know that if you don’t quite get to the end zone, or time’s running out of and you just want to put some points on the board, you can count on him to get out there and have a good chance to make it,” Morgan said. “Some years you just have to trot out your quarterback and receivers on fourth down and just go for it, but that’s a difficult position sometimes when you have fourth-and-20 from the 21-yard line. He’s helped us out and improved significantly this year.”
Sigler The son of former Millbrook swimming coach Will Sigler, Sigler is the only first-year varsity member among the five area kickers. That’s no small thing.
Millbrook went for two points after every touchdown in 2017 and 2018, and not having a kicker last year hurt them in the team’s Region 4C first round playoff loss to Kettle Run. Millbrook kept the Cougars off the scoreboard on the first possession of overtime. If they had a kicker, they might have contemplated kicking a field goal after losing a yard on each of their first two plays of their overtime possession. A holding penalty moved Millbrook back to the 25, the Pioneers were intercepted, and they lost in double overtime.
“I knew they didn’t have a kicker, so I wanted to come in and change that,” said Sigler, who kicked in middle school for Admiral Byrd (he had a 45-yarder in a game at Handley’s James R. Wilkins Jr. Stadium) but wasn’t interested in playing football as a freshman. “It feels great to be helping the team. I just try and block out everything and do my job.”
Sigler is 30 of 36 on extra points and has kicked a 30-yard field goal.
“I don’t think Pat realizes what an asset he actually is,” Millbrook coach Josh Haymore said. “It is crazy how much this kid has improved. Just being able to get the height on the ball, understanding his follow-through. And just understanding the game of football, how to squib kick, how to kick it deep, how to kick it high.
“He’s a huge asset. It’s a different deal when you’ve got a kicker you can rely on.”
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