Three-star kicker might be Alabama's most important recruit

Alabama needed a kicker, so of course Nick Saban went out and recruited the No. 1 kicker. Marvin Gentry/USA TODAY Sports

ORLANDO, Fla. -- Late in December, 100 of the top high school football players gathered to take part in the Under Armour All-America Game. The rosters were loaded with five-star prospects and future NFL draft picks.

In one corner of the practice field at ESPN's Wide World of Sports complex, kicker Will Reichard was practicing kicks and even throwing passes to the end zone to the other kickers participating in the event.

He took a snap, rolled out of the pocket and floated a touchdown pass to a receiver as if he were the five-star quarterback whose name is mentioned as the next big thing. The reality, though, is that Reichard is the only three-star commitment in a star-studded Alabama recruiting class that touts 25 ESPN 300 commitments.

On paper, he's the anchor of a class that could be one of the best Nick Saban has ever had, but kicking is the aspect the game in which Alabama has struggled most in recent seasons. And Reichard could be the answer.

"I make fun with all the commits all the time: 'Sorry for bringing down the class average,'" Reichard said. "It's understandable -- kickers aren't as valuable as a receiver or quarterback, but it's all good."

The All-America Game provides a real-life visual of the reality that kickers aren't valued as regular members of the football community. In their corner of the practice field, they're the green bean casserole on the Thanksgiving dinner plate, pushed to the side as to not interfere with the main dish.

"He's a kicker," five-star offensive tackle Amari Kight laughed in response to his future teammate's three-star rating. "We'll let it slide."

He's a kicker. Just a kicker.

Justin Eboigbe, an ESPN 300 signee in Alabama's class, noted that the group of commits has a running group text message in which they all communicate. Reichard is often included, but the others in the group chat can tell Reichard wants to be a bigger part of the team and feel valued. "The kicker is usually the life of the party," Eboigbe said. "They usually do the most to try to blend into the group, so they're usually the life of the party to fit in."

Reichard isn't a five-star or ranked in the ESPN 300, but he is still a valued member of this class. The Crimson Tide ranked No. 53 among all FBS teams in field goal percentage in 2018, making 15 of 20 attempts this past season, with eight missed extra point attempts.

The team ranked No. 128 in yards per punt, with an average of 35.66 yards.

Reichard specializes in kickoffs, but he can kick field goals and punt if needed -- and Alabama might need him to.

"I think the job will be open. It's going to be whoever performs better in the spring and camp," Reichard said. "It'll be like any other position; whoever beats a guy out will win the job."

Just like any other position. Reichard will have his chance to make his mark, like a contributing member of the team, and earn the respect of his teammates.

His fellow commitments, as highly ranked as they are, understand that the kicker could very well be an early contributor and someone who might decide the team's fate at the end of a game. Though they have poked fun at him in group texts and joked that he's holding down the class average, Eboigbe and the others know Reichard has his place.

"We all know they don't rank kickers appropriately," Eboigbe said. "He is the No. 1 kicker, so that counts for something. We value him like he's a five-star; he's an honorary five-star to us."