TAMPA — Field position and clutch kicking can alter the outcome of a football game. And this season throughout Hillsborough County, special teams players are proving just how valuable they are.
One only has to look at the opening play of the Armwood-Hillsborough district game in which junior kicker/punter Sterling Hoffrichter’s onside kick was recovered by Armwood.
Standouts in this year’s group include Hoffrichter, Berkeley Prep’s Austin Iglehart, Jesuit’s Rhett Waldron, Newsome junior Austin Cobb, Sickles’ Daniel Lezotte, Riverview’s Brandon Stage, Plant’s Hunter Anderson and Bloomingdale senior Lucas Jose, who earlier this season made a 53-yard field goal.
In the season opener against Tampa Bay Tech, Cobb went 3-for-3 on field goal attempts with the longest being 38 yards, and with the addition of an extra point, led his team in a 23-12 win.
In fact, this season might showcase the best group of kickers the county has seen in a while.
“In terms of numbers of kids that are really good, yes,” said Tom Feely, the special teams coach at Jesuit and founder of Feely Athletics, a Tampa-based kicking program. Feely’s son, Jay, played at Jesuit and now plays for the Arizona Cardinals.
Carrollwood Day sophomore Stephen Yaffe was named a Top Tier Freshman All-American last year while Hoffrichter was selected to the All-American Sophomore Team.
Before the season, several Hillsborough County kickers and punters were named finalists of the 2013 Top Tier All-American Watch List. Waldron, Stage and Jose made the Class of 2014 list, Hoffrichter was selected to the 2015 list and Yaffe to 2016. The list was comprised during a national tour of evaluation camps.
Feely, a Top-Tier evaluator, said Tampa is known for producing the country’s top kickers and would not be surprised if few more All-Americans emerge after this season.
“We did this all over the country and the Tampa area dominated when we put numbers side by side,” Feely said. “You usually get the best kickers from Tampa, Dallas and Los Angeles and I’m starting to see some from New Jersey.”
Feely said kickers and punters can sometimes get overlooked.
“How many times do you see games come down to a kick?” he said. “Long snappers, too. If you don’t have a good long snapper, you don’t have a good kicking game. That’s critical, too. Punting is all about field position. If you’ve got a good punting team and can move the chains 35 yards that makes a huge difference. Kickoff is all about field position.”
Plant looking forward to Tampa Bay Tech
Since 2009, Plant is 3-1 against Tampa Bay Tech. Plant lost to the Titans, 32-30, in 2009 and shut out TBT in 2010 and 2011. Last year, Plant won 21-14 with a fourth-quarter score.
“We didn’t have a chance with the way the scheduling worked out this year to play Armwood or Jefferson or Hillsborough or Jesuit and those great games,” Plant coach Robert Weiner said. “We look at this game as kind of all those teams rolled into one. They’re a team we’ve played close and have a rivalry-edge to it and we’re excited to play it. We want to play against good teams.”
Plant is coming off a 50-40 come-from-behind win against Bloomingdale while Tampa Bay Tech defeated Wiregrass Ranch, 32-0.
“I think they are really fast and really physical and when you put those two things together with the kind of talent they have and the kind of job coach (Jayson) Roberts does over there, you have a pretty tough combo,” Weiner said.
COMMITMENT: Alonso senior running back Ish Witter verbally committed to Missouri on Thursday.
Witter, a 5-foot-8, 195-pound back, rushed for 902 yards and six touchdowns last season, and through four games of the 2013 season, has rushed 62 times for 360 yards and three touchdowns.