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KICKERS NEED NARROWER FOCUS

Imagine being a baseball pitcher and finding out that the 17-inch-wide plate had suddenly shrunk to 8-1/2 inches. Or a hockey player learning that the width of the goal had been cut in half.

Seem outrageous? Welcome to the world of an Arena Football League kicker.

"It's been an adjustment," Storm kicker Kyle Chilton said with a chuckle, "to say the least."

In a league predicated on high-flying offense, knocking the ball through the uprights presents a problem for even the most experienced kickers. Forget about field goals. Extra points sometimes become an adventure.

"It's not as easy as it looks," coach Dave Ewart said. "(The uprights) can look pretty small out there."

A standard NFL crossbar measures 18 feet, 6 inches wide and sits 10 feet off the turf. In the Arena League, the crossbar is just 9 feet across and 15 feet off the ground.

For Chilton, a rookie from Clearwater, the degree of difficulty is ratcheted up even more because of the Storm's current practice conditions. Tampa Bay works out at the Larry Sanders Progress Village, which doesn't have AFL uprights.

"What I usually do is find a light post and try to hit it," Chilton said. "You have to get creative."

The Storm isn't cleared to practice in the St. Pete Times Forum until the Lightning is done with the NHL playoffs. With the way the Lightning is playing, the Storm might wait a while.

But kicking the ball through the narrow uprights isn't the only problem Chilton faces. The entire timing process of the kick is different from the outdoor game due to a shorter snap to the holder. Chilton said that creates a change in body positioning.

"Your plant foot gets to a different spot, so your body angle is different," he said. "You end up being more over top of the ball."

Chilton has had his ups and downs while getting adjusted. He ranks 11th in the league in scoring (44 points) but has struggled with extra points, connecting on just 73 percent.

But Chilton also played a huge part in one of the Storm's wins this season. He connected on a 44-yard field goal as time expired to help Tampa Bay beat the host Soul 51-48 on April 15.

"That felt like a huge weight had been lifted off my chest," he said. "The guys had all stood by me and picked me up earlier in the season when I was struggling, and to hit that just boosted my confidence so much."

* * *

Tonight

Storm (2-6) vs. Kansas City (2-6)

When/where: 7:30; St. Pete Times Forum, Tampa

Radio: 1250-AM

Skinny: Kansas City QB J.J. Raterink is third in the AFL in passing (309 yards per game). ... Storm WR Huey Whittaker is averaging 11 yards a catch and has 14 receiving TDs. ... The Command has allowed 15 sacks, 13th in the AFL. The Storm is tied for first in defensive sacks with 15. ... The Storm added defensive backs Marcus Udell (free agent) and Terrence Washington (trade from Milwaukee for NG Richard Clebert) to the roster.

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