TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- Kicking is often an underappreciated aspect of football, until a last-second field goal is needed or field position needs to be swung with a big punt.
The special teams aspect of the game is even more overlooked in the world of recruiting. Scholarships are few and offers trickle in at a much slower pace as compared to the other positions for the majority of prospects. Landing a good kicker or punter, though, can really be a huge asset to a program. We at ESPN are giving kickers careful consideration and study in our recruiting coverage to help identify the top prospects.
On Sunday, we covered the first of several Kohl's kicking camps, one of the premier high school kicking events in the nation. This showcase at Florida State had a small group checking in at under 30 participants, but featured several prospects with BCS conference ability. It was a perfect day for kicking with cool temperatures and a slight breeze that, if anything, aided the kickers. The day was filled with instruction and competition. Here were some of the notables from the camp:
No MVP award was given, but if one was, we would have awarded it to Marvin Kloss (Naples, Fla./Barron Collier) who had an excellent all-around day. He participated only in the field goal and kickoff portions of the camp, but from the beginning to the end, Kloss was the most consistent performer. There were some kickers in attendance with stronger legs and better frames, but Kloss continually proved he could kick with the best of them. He showed good distance and height with his place-kicking and worked without a tee. In the competition portion of the camp, he won in a battle that tested distance, accuracy and the ability to get the ball up. He also finished second in a single miss elimination field goal competition. With his kickoffs, he displayed the ability to consistently get the ball near or in the end zone and combined that with good hang time, hovering around the four-second mark. He sports no offers at this time, but Kloss, who is looking at Michigan State, UConn and Iowa State among others, will surely land some over the course of the year.
One of the more intriguing kickers at the camp was Brandon Tarpley (Palmetto, Fla.), a talented but raw prospect. A good-sized kid with a tall, rangy frame, Tarpley displayed some impressive leg strength. He was certainly the Rick "Wild Thing" Vaughn of the camp; we knew he could launch the ball, but were never really sure where it would go -- especially on field goals. On field goals he was very erratic -- especially working without a tee. He hit on only 4 of 10 attempts in the charting session, but he can kick the ball a country mile. He needs to harness some of his ability and improve his technique, but with some work, Tarpley could provide great range. Although his field goals need work, that aspect of the game may not even be his future; he can help a program on kickoffs and punts. He won both the kickoff and punt competitions and displayed more consistency and accuracy in these areas. The ball explodes off his foot, and he can combine distance and hang time. In charting kickoffs, he hit three of his four kicks over 70 yards, including one that traveled 75 yards and hung in the air for 4.23 seconds. For a kid who went out for football as a freshman to help stay in shape for soccer, Tarpley has a bright future. Now only if "Wild Thing" can tame his leg.
There were some pleasant surprises at the camp, but heading into the day there were a few names we were interested in checking out, including Sam Myers (Charlotte, N.C./Latin). The 2010 prospect came down to compete from North Carolina and may have been a bit jet-lagged as he got off to a slow start. In the morning session he was off on his field goals, hitting only 50 percent, and adequate in his kickoffs, and he didn't chart well. Heading toward a stock-down type of day, the 2010 prospect displayed some competitiveness and mental toughness by rebounding big-time in the afternoon session. He won the field goal competition, beating out Kloss, and finished second to Kloss in the height and accuracy competition. Myers also performed well in the kickoff competition, generating much better distance and hang time; he finished second, only a few points off the winning mark. Displaying that he can be a triple threat as a kicker, he also performed well punting. A tall kid with the frame to get bigger, Myers is starting to add weight training to his preparation. While he attends camps and he is beginning to lift, he also claims golf has helped him improve as a kicker. A member of his high school golf team, Myers feels the sport helps him with his mechanics as well as the mental aspect of the position. "Golf is a lot like kicking, only you substitute your leg for the club," he said. Myers currently has no offers, but is looking at SEC and ACC schools and says he has received early interest from Illinois.
It must be the shoes
Two participants entered the camp with little fanfare and drew initial attention for their brightly colored footwear, but over the course of the day they showed their ability was worthy of attention also. Chase Varnadore (Tallahassee, Fla.) was a kid who came in under the radar, but he garnered some attention as the day progressed -- and not only for his bright green shoes. Varnadore hit 9 of 10 kicks in the morning charting session. He was 61-of-63 on extra points and 5-of-9 on field goals with a long of 48 last season. He said FAMU and Indiana are expressing interest. Another prospect with some brightly colored cleats who kept your attention with his ability was Frankie Velez (Ocala, Fla./Trinity Catholic). He performed well in his place-kicking and won his group's field goal distance competition with a long for the day of 60 yards. He used a half-inch tee, but is starting to practice off the ground. In 2008 he was 72-of-73 on extra points and 8-of-9 on field goals with a long of 43. Duke has contacted him and he said he is interested in the Blue Devils and also mentioned he may be interested in walking on at Florida.
• One player who grabbed attention was Patrick Baker (Vero Beach, Fla.), a good-sized kicker who displayed a strong leg. He was a bit wild with his place-kicking, but showed potential as a kickoff specialist at the college level. He needs to work on consistency, but displayed an aggressive approach to the ball and the ability to put the ball in the end zone. In the morning charting session he had kickoffs of 69, 75, 75 and 69 yards.
• Myers was not the only North Carolina prospect in attendance. Trever Austin (Shelby, N.C./Crest) also attended to test his skills. Kicking for his varsity squad since his freshman year, this 2011 prospect showed flashes and could be a kid to watch down the road.
• Billy Thompson (Oakwood, Ga./Flowery Branch) was a kid who looked like a linebacker hanging out with the kickers, and it was no shock to hear that his coaches would like to try him at outside linebacker this season. Thompson, though, considers himself a full-time kicker and showed flashes that he could be right. We agree he can be a college kicker, but we feel he may be best-suited as a punter at the college level and could possibly also handle kickoff duties.
Craig Haubert is a recruiting coordinator for Scouts Inc.