The University of Wisconsin-Whitewater was the setting for the 2010 Kohl's All-America Kicking Camp. As Jamie Kohl and his staff put the nation's top kickers, punters and long snappers through their paces on Sunday morning, I had the chance to the question that was on my mind the entire two-hour drive from Chicago.
With so many football games either won or lost because of the kicking game and special teams play, why is it so hard for a specialist to receive a scholarship offer?
"It's just so tough these days for a kicker, snapper and punter to get looked at," said Kohl, a former NFL kicker who has operated Kohl's Kicking for the past 12 years. "Kicking, punting and snapping are about consistency over time. You've got to have the mandatory leg strength and snap speed to become a [FBS] athlete. I also think with the limit on scholarships and the demand to find a great kicker, it scares a lot of coaches. It scares them to lock into one guy for four years. It's almost like the quarterback position. College coaches can't afford to make a mistake when recruiting a quarterback and it's much the same for kickers."
Kohl and his staff travel the nation year round looking for the best talent which culminates with the National Kicking Camp held in Wisconsin in July. Do aspiring kickers need to go to a kicking coach or camp to get noticed by college coaches?
"Not necessarily but it helps," Kohl said. "There's more to kicking than just kicking. There's the mental part of it, there's a lot of training with technique, the eyes and more that people don't even know about it. We have 105 camps from January to this point we are at now. We videotape the athletes and let them know and show them how they can get better. We track every kick so we know who the best of the best is. This is information we need when consulting with college and NFL coaches."
Kickers and long snappers from all over the country made the trek to America's heartland this past weekend and one of the best if not the very best was USC commit Andre Heidari (Bakersfield, Calif./Stockdale). Aside from having obvious leg strength, Heidari was extremely consistent and confident with every swing of his leg.
"I started kicking seriously when I was in the 8th grade," Heidari said. "I started going to a lot of the kicking camps like this one trying to get recognition because it's tough for specialists to get scholarship offers. I've been kicking and punting since my sophomore year and this summer I hit some camps.
"I actually thought I was going to end up at Nebraska. I had a good camp at Nebraska and I felt they were going to offer me a scholarship but I went to USC's Rising Stars camp and things changed. I had a great camp and spent about four hours talking to coach [John] Baxter. From that point, I was asked if I could graduate early. I talked to my guidance counselor about that and I was told that I had enough credits. USC decided to offer me and I committed.
"For me, USC was obviously a lot closer to home than Nebraska and USC has a great program and tradition plus outstanding academics so I'm happy and content that things worked out the way they have and I know that I couldn't have gotten to this place without the help of Jamie Kohl and Chris Sailer.
"I've learned so much about kicking from those guys. There's just so many muscle memory drills that most kickers don't know about but will learn at these camps. It's worth all the time and travel and it has paid off for sure."
Another verbally-committed kicker on hand was Taylor Bertolet (Reading, Pa./Exeter Township). Bertolet, who has pledged to Texas A&M, had arguably the strongest leg of any kicker at the camp. The 5-foot-9, 170-pounder absolutely booms the football, showing 55- to 60-yard range on field goals.
"If it weren't for coach Kohl, I wouldn't have been put in the position to receive an offer from Texas A&M," Bertolet said. "Coach Kohl is the one who called Texas A&M on my behalf and he was also working their camp when I went down there for the first time this summer. Coach [Mike] Sherman liked what he saw in me at that camp and asked me to come back down and kick again against other kickers that they were considering. I won a competition against those kickers and was offered a scholarship. I committed on the spot."
Other campers who were very impressive and could end up signing letters of intent this February were Mauro Bondi (Boca Raton, Fla./West Boca Raton), Michael Hill (Tarpon Springs, Fla./Tarpon Springs), Tilghman Harvey (Tucson, AZ./Canyon Del Oro), Tyler Wedel (McFarland, Wis./McFarland) and Drew Meyer (Hartland, Wis./Arrowhead).
Chris Pool has covered recruiting in Chicago and the Midwest for 15 years. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.