Place kicking has become increasingly important in high school football. Long gone are the days when coaches would line their players up to see if they could kick the ball 20 yards accurately for the extra point. Prayer was the best option for a field goal. Now, the field goal has become a weapon.
In Connor Mendini, Holmdel High School has one of the most promising kickers in the state and maybe the country. He recently returned from Austin, Texas where he took part in the Kicking World National Showcase. The sophomore Hornet earned the invitation via his performance at a Kicking World Camp in Toms River last summer. More than 1,200 high school kickers and punters participated in camps across the country, and only 90 invitations to the national showcase were handed out.
Mendini attended the camps at Wayne and Toms River just to “test myself against other people,” he said. The Hornet said he had no idea that an invitation to the showcase was in the offing.
Place kickers were judged on their consistency, power, distance and accuracy, showcase owner Brent Grablachoff explained. Making 50- and 55-yard field goals impressed Grablachoff enough to invite Mendini to the national showcase. What Grablachoff remembers about Mendini is “the way he hit the ball. It jumped off his foot.” He said Mendini is in the top 10 of kickers in the country in his age group.
Grablachoff knows the importance of kicking. He was a place kicker for Toms River North High School and then Montclair State University. His nationwide camps provide teaching instruction, drills and competition for the kickers.
Because of kicking’s importance, scholarships are now available to players of that position, and Grablachoff wants his camps to open doors to those scholarships.
Participating at the camps and showcase, Mendini noted, gave him added confidence and the opportunity to meet kickers from around the country.
Holmdel football Coach Jeff Raines didn’t need Mendini’s showcase participation to know how good and valuable he is.
“We are very excited about his development,” said Raines. “He is definitely a kid that could project onto the college level. From a team point of view, we think he can be real weapon from a field position perspective as well as his ability to shorten the field with long field goals.”
Last season, Mendini was a perfect 22-22 in PATs and booted a 35-yard field goal.
Just as kickers have become more important to the game, they are no longer looked at as separate from other players. They put in as much time at their craft as anyone on the team.
“I’m just part of the team,” Mendini pointed out. “I lift in the weight room with the team every day.”
As for the pressure that goes with the job (game-winning or tying PATs or field goals), Mendini doesn’t think about it.
“I remind myself that I’ve done this before,” he explained.
How Mendini became Holmdel’s place kicker is right out of a movie. He played travel soccer prior to high school. He was friends with football players, and that led him to give place kicking a try. In eighth grade, he started kicking. One day before his freshman year, he was down on the Hornets’ gridiron kicking field goals. His friends recorded the kicks and put the video online where Raines could see.
“Coach Raines saw me kick 50-yarders on the field,” Mendini said.
He made the varsity squad as a freshman, giving the team an additional weapon.