Life of the lonesome kicker: God or goat

While watching some good old-fashioned Thanksgiving Day football, the mood of the games soon turned sour when all of the kickers were ruining the production.

During the Texans at Lions early game, both kickers — Houston’s Shayne Graham and Detroit’s Jason Hanson — were fowling (get the pun?) up the beginning of a three-game turkey day marathon.

Paid to do nothing but hit the showers early, ride bicycles during practice, get the first tee times and become either the hero or goat, kickers have a pretty good life expectancy in the NFL.

 

But as many will attest, the lot of them are a house of cards waiting to crumble.

Emotional, pouty, frail — it’s no wonder the bulk of them come from soccer backgrounds. Prepubescent girls asking boys to their first dance usually have more confidence.

But the salty ones, you know, the Adam Vinateris and Robbie Goulds of the world, are worth their weight in gold.

Most NFL games come down to the last possession, with the culmination of 60 minutes put on the shoulders of the guy who, for all intents and purposes, probably just finished serving the defense their in-game refreshments.

So when both Graham and Hanson stunk it up in the overtime, missing from 51 and 47 on back-to-back drives, it occurred to me that kicking — although one of the most stressful occupations in the world comparable to the lives of an underwater welder or natural birth obstetrician — is as easy as riding a bike.

Basically, you are dependent on two things, the snap and the hold. Because 99 percent of the holders are backup quarterbacks getting paid more money to hold a clipboard than they are to win games should tell you it’s a pretty good bet the ball is going to be on spot. Actually, the only thing that changes from kick to kick is the distance and the moment.

I’m not saying the profession of kicking is easy, just the mechanics. If you’ve been blessed with a leg that can kick a ball 55 yards, you’re probably a shoe in for a nice payday. Plus, most kick in domes or at least stadiums that don’t get a whole lot of wind.

I get it, confidence is huge. After a string of misses, long, talent-rich careers (I’m talking to you, Green Bay’s Mason Crosby) can be forgotten in the matter of a few games.

But like bartending on slow nights where tips are few and far between, that’s part of the job.

Even last weekend during the 112th Montana State-Montana game, poor Chris Lider shanked kicks of 23 and 37 yards, not to mention getting fortunate on an extra point that pounded the upright and fell forward.

Do you think Lider all the sudden forgot how to kick? Of course not. But when the demons of doubt creep inside the head of the kicker, it’s like a bomb went off between their ears.

Then again I feel for them. Here they are checking their fantasy team one moment on the sidelines and put into the heat of the moment the next.

I should say I felt for them, up until last Friday, that is. That’s when I knew all there was to kicking is a little talent and a lot of guts and heart.

Jake Dennehy, a senior kicker for Butte High, proved to me what I’ve always known — athleticism is only a small part of becoming successful on the playing field.

You see, Dennehy was a former starting linebacker for the Bulldogs before a shoulder injury challenged his playing career. But that young man put his pain and ego aside and did what was best for the team, staying on for coach Arie Gray’s ‘Dogs as the kickoff and field goal specialist.

Through his trials and tribulations, he watched his ‘Dogs begin to slowly climb in the Class AA rankings. After each and every win, most athletes in his position would’ve had their dobbers down, all because the limelight that once shined bright on his No. 12 as the starting backer for Butte High was now relegated for another.

But not Dennehy. He just wanted to be a part of something special.

And he was. Butte High and their high powered passing offense, week after week, put the state on notice. After blowing out Billings Skyview in the first round of the playoffs, the competition began to get tougher.

The Bulldogs needed overtime to take care of CMR and were down by one with less than 30 seconds left when Bozeman kicked off in Butte during last Friday’s state championship game at Naranche Stadium.

A big return by Dalton Daum to midfield, scramble by Dallas Cook and quick pass complete by Cook at the Bozeman 29 left time for one play.

Forget that Dennehy’s first extra point of the night was blocked, coach Gray trotted the senior out for the game winning 46 yard field goal try in front of over 8,000 screaming fans, not to mention another 500 or so like me on the sidelines — just there to be part of such a spectacle.

Having not celebrated a state championship since before he was born, 1991 to be exact, Dennehy’s legacy was not going to be that he gave his heart, soul and arm, as it were, to be a Bulldog, it was going to be this kick — made or missed.

To make matters worse, Dennehy’s line was late getting set for the kick, adding even more of a distraction from the wet field for a kick some 16 yards farther than he’s ever attempted in a game.

I thought Gray was crazy. Here he had the biggest arm and some of the most sure handed receivers in the state and he was putting this all on a kicker? But if there was one thing I gathered from watching Butte High during their overtime win against CMR the week before and the game plan against Bozeman, Gray knew exactly the limits of what his players could achieve.

As Dennehy struck the kick, a few thoughts went through my mind. I knew he got it good because the audible “whomp” from a compressed football is unlike any sound in the world. But I couldn’t believe how he approached the kick. After making contact, both feet were off the ground, something any kicker will tell you is highly irregular and almost assuredly a way to pull the ball.

Just like a golfer’s tee shot or a bowler’s first ball, the harder you throw or swing, the more prone to hooking or pulling your shot. For a kicker, this almost always amounts to a shank.

But not for Dennehy. He hit that ball so squarely, so true, there was nowhere for it to go but straight.

And even as the ball wobbled to it’s finish, running out of energy in the misty, 25 degree air of uptown Butte, it managed to travel 46-and-a-half yards for an improbably 38-36 Bulldog win.

It was a finish that Hollywood couldn’t have written. Bozeman erased a 14-point deficit in less than two minutes to take a one point lead, then an injured linebacker from Butte High, whose shoulder popped out of socket on a tackle earlier in the game, kicks a game-winning field goal from a distance where most collegiate kickers routinely muck up in golfing weather? Uh huh, sure he did.

But it did happen. It happened to a kid who deserved the limelight because he put the team before himself.

That’s why when I watch the high-priced prima donnas possessing 10 times the ability as Dennehy playing on Sunday afternoons, I can only shake my head in disgust when they miss.

Dennehy made the same length field goal Hanson missed Thursday, yet the latter didn’t get paid to do it (of course that doesn’t count the mountains of adult beverages that will be bought for him in Butte area bars from his 21st birthday on).

The kick heard ‘round Montana may be the only thing Dennehy is remembered for on the gridiron.

No amount of pressure or odds against him could match his heart.

Tell Dennehy kickers get no love.


2012 Southwestern A All-Conference football list

Three Copperheads, Joey Orrino, Eric Boyd and Marcus Monaco, made the Southwestern A All-Conference and All-State squads announced by conference officials today.

Even more made the all-conference lists as well.

Check back later for more on their contributions to the Copperhead football team later …

2012 SW-A football all conference

Butte has Naranche, why can’t we have Mitchell Stadium?

Call it the new venue, improved players or a fairly new coaching staff finally able to implement their pass happy offensive style effectively, but Butte High football has turned it around.

But if you were asking this guy, I’d say that stadium has a lot to do with it.

Beginning play last year, Butte High is now 10-1 in their refurbished Naranche Stadium, set to the north of their high school in uptown Butte.

And last week’s dramatic 37-36 win in overtime was just the topping on an already tasty cake for Bulldog faithful.

Crammed with fans set no more than seven yards off the field, the place is loud. It’s unlike anything teams in Montana have to deal with on a regular basis.

Even with the game getting changed from Friday night to Saturday afternoon due to some sketchy driving conditions from Great Falls, the crowd was indeed a factor.

I went over for two reasons: 1) to watch former Anaconda High student athlete Dallas Cook, a junior quarterback, play for the Bulldogs and 2) see what all the buzz about Naranche is.

Both were as good, no, great as advertised.

Cook’s transformation from a skittish, unsure freshman backup quarterback behind Kyle Moore to a confident, leader in the fast-paced, spread passing offense is remarkable.

In a game where the field surface wasn’t exactly what you would call ideal, playing on a mix of frozen grass, gravel, ice and packed snow, Cook completed 21-of-30 passes for 236 yards and a touch down.

Even when the Rustlers dropped eight into coverage, Cook pulled it down and toted the rock for 130 yards and four TDs on 20 carries to make up for the lack of yards passing.

I spoke with Cook afterwards, a young man I built a bit of a rapport with during his one year at AHS, and told him it was one of the most clutch performances I’ve witnessed.

But I don’t know if it could’ve been as special seeing the game at Bulldog Memorial.

Naranche just has a feel of football. It combines subtleties from Washington Grizzly Stadium in Missoula at Bobcat Stadium in Bozeman, but was also careful not to ruin the unique backdrop of the old, rundown, industrialized buildings of uptown Butte.

When driving by, it doesn’t seem like much. It’s surface is set below the street level, which probably added another drop in temperature from the near-zero degree day Saturday. But once you’re standing at field level, it really is a magical place.

Could any team come in there and win wearing the Purple and White, no. But having a place like that to call home, I can tell you right now little boys in Butte are dreaming of wearing the big “B” on the side of their helmets these day instead of the intertwined BC — something that hasn’t happened for a long time on the Hill.

 

Why not us

The Department of Revenue can tuck and roll from the top of Mount Haggin for all I care. That statement rings even more true now after I’ve witnessed Naranche Stadium first hand.

You see, Naranche too was built using Tax Increment Finance District monies in order to update the venerable stadium and school grounds while also doubling to stabilize the uptown economy, to the tune of about $5 million. But when School District 10 in Anaconda wanted to do the same, which would’ve encompassed a football and track and field facility as well, rotten politicians and the DOR stepped in and tried their best to stop it.

Once the issue went to court, several documents and even lawyers for the state went on to say how irresponsible it was to sink money into a football stadium.

Tell that to Bulldog fans.

Saturday’s attendance wasn’t announced, but I’m sure it was around 2,000 to 2,500 — most of whom found a place to eat or drink in uptown Butte afterwards.

Will the total amount of the money ever be recouped? Probably not. But who can put a price tag on a school investing in the students’ welfare outside of the classroom as well?

I’ve always said sports is an extension of the classroom. And just ask Bob Orrino or Shawn Hansen after their own successful football season, winning on the field of play not only increases the well being of the student body, but overall behavior as well.

Talk to anyone associated with Community Hospital of Anaconda when a prospective doctor or nurse thinks of taking a job here. The first place they tour is the school and its facilities.

What speaks more volumes than an investment into their students like what Butte High did with Naranche.

I spoke with John Thatcher and Bill Foley at the football game and told them how lucky they were to be able to watch a game at Naranche. I made it a point to speak with Butte High athletic director Chuck Merrifield and tell him what a grand place he had.

I can’t wait until someone says the same to me at Mitchell Stadium.