Last night was the highlight of my week so far.
In the midst of playoffs, it was time for a little fun. Thanks to coach Aaron Maul, coach Nate Basich, Hunter Hanay and the rest of the Bishop Blanchet football team, I got an inside look into the world of high school kicking.
Three soccer players stood inside Dempsey Indoor Facility at the University of Washington Wednesday night. Only one of us (spoiler alert – it was me) hadn’t yet made the switch from kicking a soccer ball to kicking a football.
Growing up, I loved football. I played pick-up on Sundays with my younger sister and other kids from the neighborhood, I talked about it extensively with my dad and grandpa, and in the Sayles household, Sunday and Monday nights the family room was reserved for the NFL on TV and massive amounts of “football food.”
That love of football never disappeared (duh, I’m a sports writer now). One of my bigger athletic regrets growing up was not being able to play football. Sure, I played fútbol for years, but FOOTBALL?! That would’ve been great.
My sister always fancied herself a quarterback, and I can’t blame her – she can throw the ball as well as most guys I know. But me? I like to think I would’ve been a safety. Patience in the open field before making gasp-worthy tackles. In reality, though, kicking is where it’s at for me.
OK, so how Wednesday night came around…
Back in the first week of October, I wrote an article on Hanay’s season kicking. In just four games, he was consistently hitting PATs and 40-yard field goals. He has a booming leg, pinning teams back on their own 20 during games.
When I was on the phone with Hanay and kicking coach Basich that week, I, only partly joking, mentioned coming out and having them teach me a few things. They jumped on it, and from there, I decided I’d keep up my end, and make sure it happened.
So this week, I contacted coach Maul and asked if the offer would still be good – it was, and in perfect conditions: indoors, away from the cold, windy evenings October in Seattle promises.
Basich and Hanay were great coaches, teaching me the fundamentals of kicking field goals and punting, and even letting me lace up my soccer cleats and attempting a couple field goals from 15 yards out (which I made!) and 20 yards (which I just missed, hitting the right upright twice in a row). Hanay showed me up, hitting from 50 yards out, but hey, he’s the pro.
Hanay was constantly moving around, doing various drills and just waiting until team periods where he could jump in.
Right before the end of practice, Basich and one of the other coaches came up to me and told me to get ready – I was going to kick a “game-winning” field goal with the entire team surrounding me.
Sure enough, at the end of practice, with the entire team kneeling in the middle of the field, Maul let the team know what I’d been doing at practice that night, and that they were going to put Basich and Hanay’s coaching to the test by putting me under pressure.
The team seemed stoked, but my heart was racing. There was absolutely no way I was going to not make it with everybody watching. My pride was at stake!
I thought they were just going to stand behind me and watch. That’s what I was told…but why would I ever believe it would be that easy?
The second I started to square up, the team surrounded me on all sides, their deep “OOOHs!” echoing. Dang it.
But ultimately, my practice session paid off, and I made it (again) from 15 yards. Not a crazy distance, but hey, I’ll take it!
I don’t know why, but the team went wild, jumping up and down and circling around me. I felt like I had won the big game, but really, I just got to hold onto my pride for a little longer.
What did I learn? Three things: 1) kicking is more complicated than I thought, 2) I might be too cocky for my own good sometimes, thinking I could hit a 40-yard field goal (maybe next time) and 3) trying a PAT or field goal with an entire football team yelling at you is almost more terrifying than kicking a PK in a soccer game.
Another big thanks to Coach Maul, Coach Basich, Hanay and the entire Bishop Blanchet football team. I felt right at home last night, and had so much fun.