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Clutch kickers: All about the leg this season

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Thu. September 25, 2014 | Bob Putnam | Email

Clutch kickers: All about the leg this season

It is not easy figuring out the best high school kicker in the Tampa Bay area. 

Consider:

East Lake’s Daniel LaCamera is a Texas A&M recruit who became an internet sensation two weeks ago after a Vine video surfaced of him hitting a 68-yard field goal in practice. He currently is ranked seventh in the nation by Kohl’s Kicking Camps, one spot behind …

Armwood’s Sterling Hofrichter, a Syracuse commit who was a first-team, all-state selection in Class 6A last season. He is ranked sixth, one slot below. …

Tarpon Springs’ Louie Zervos, who jumped to fifth in the nation after a strong performance at a camp this summer that earned him a roster spot for the Under Armour All-American game in January.

With three ranked among the top seven in the nation for the 2015 class, it’s safe to say this is a good year for area kickers. And the talent is deeper than that. Another senior, Clearwater Central Catholic’s Yanni Ramos, is 30th in the nation.

“A lot of this goes in cycles, but right now the Tampa Bay area has to be right up at the top as far as talent among kickers,” said Jaime Kohl, a former Iowa State kicker who now runs national camps for aspiring college and professional kickers.

The ability to put the ball through the uprights is but a single line on the resumes of kickers in this stellar class. They also are excellent punters and their kickoffs routinely reach the back of the end zone.

And when games are on the line, their foot can be the difference.

Ask Zervos.

Last week, he was called on for a game-winning 20-yard field goal in double overtime. It was a clutch kick that had to be executed in pouring rain on a muddy field with little or no traction. No problem. Zervos hit the ball with enough power that it fell through the uprights despite being tipped at the line of scrimmage and ricocheting twice off the posts for a 10-7 victory against district foe Dunedin.

“There were nerves, but you have to block that out,” said Zervos, who has seen increased interest from Purdue. “Those are the money kicks. I’m just glad I was able to make it.”

For Hofrichter, LaCamera and Zervos, kicking a soccer ball was their first love. They all played the sport by the time they were 4 years old. But in middle school, they gravitated toward football. Zervos initially was a wide receiver. After one play, he knew that was not the position for him.

“I got hit pretty hard,” Zervos said. “After that, I knew it was time to become a kicker.”

In middle school, all three started receiving training at national and regional camps conducted by gurus such as Kohl. Another advantage was living in Florida, where the weather allowed them to hone their craft year-round.

“Florida kids have a huge advantage,” Kohl said. “It’s always nice. We have about four to five camps in the state from January through March, and they often attract kids from up North who have a hard time training during those months.”

At camps, kickers learn about technique, including the mental aspect.

“Kicking is different than any other position,” Kohl said. “It’s not a physical toll. It’s a mental one. Those guys are on an island. Time in and time out, they have to come through in pressure situations where everyone is watching. We are trying to help manage the highs and the lows that they’ll go through dealing with that.”

It was at these camps where LaCamera, Hofrichter and Zervos became good friends.

“We see each other all the time and we talk and try to help each other out when we can,” said LaCamera, who actually played defensive tackle in youth league ball. “Kicking is like a fraternity. We all have a real good bond.”

But make no mistake, when it’s time to perform against each other, the competition is serious. All four teams — CCC included — are a combined 15-0 and favored to make the playoffs.

“We’re always trying to beat one another,” Hofrichter said. “That’s what helps us get better.”

For these three, close games that need a kick to win are nothing to be afraid of.

And who knows? When East Lake and Tarpon Springs meet tonight in a huge rivalry game between undefeated teams, the kickers could make the difference.

Zervos certainly wouldn’t mind.

“I think about it all the time,” Zervos said. “My dream scenario would be to hit a 50-yard game-winning field goal to beat East Lake. That would be amazing.”

Contact Bob Putnam at putnam@tampabay.com. Follow @BobbyHomeTeam. 

Just for kicks

Sterling Hofrichter, Armwood
Ht/wt: 5-9, 170
Season stats: PATs 12-of-13; FGs 3-of-3
Longest field goal in a game (career): 47
Longest in practice (career): 65

Daniel LaCamera, East Lake
Ht/wt: 6-4, 225
Season stats: PATs 17-of-18; FGs 6-of-6
Longest field goal in a game (career): 53
Longest field goal in practice (career): 68

Yanni Ramos, Clearwater Central Catholic

Ht/wt: 5-9, 195
Season stats: PATs 8-of-8; FGs 4-of-5
Longest field goal in a game (career): 40
Longest field goal in practice (career): 61

Louie Zervos, Tarpon Springs

Ht/wt: 5-11, 155
Season stats: PATs 13-of-14; FGs 2-of-5
Longest field goal in a game (career): 49
Longest field goal in practice (career): 65

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