Rangers find special boosts amid rocky startSeptember 5, 2013
By JOSEPH FANELLI
Herald Sports Writer
Situation 1: It is a Friday night with a cloudless sky. Two teams play football under stadium lights. On a third-and-5 at the opposing team’s 17-yard line, the offense runs the tailback up the middle for a play short of the first down. The offense exits and a kicker trots on. He proceeds to hammer a 32-yarder dead-split between the goal posts. Three points are added and nobody thinks twice.
Situation 2: Same night, same game, same third down. Except this time, the kicker trots on and boots the ball wide left. No points are added, the crowd groans and someone makes an offhanded joke about kickers.
Both of these are hypothetical, but at least one is closer to the truth about Forest Park’s game Friday against Perry Central. On that occasion, Forest Park kicker Dakota Begle was perfect on two tries from 27 and 40 yards out.
No kicker jokes, thank you very much.
Begle has been the face of a special-teams unit that has shone bright in what has been a tough start to the Rangers’ 2013 campaign. After being blanked 60-0 in their opener to Gibson Southern, Forest Park fell 33-13 Friday against Perry Central. There were improvements — the squad’s first touchdown for instance — but the highlight was Begle’s 40-yarder, which looked like it could have been good from 50 and was just 1 yard shy of Austin Weyer’s program record. A midfielder on the soccer team with nine goals this season, he is leading both the soccer and football teams in scoring after Friday’s two field goal, one PAT performance.
Begle has been kicking for the Rangers since he saw a flier in school his freshman year. Kicking was his chance to return, if only part time, to a game he played and loved as a kid.
“I’ve always taken a big interest in football,” Begle said. “I played a little growing up and knew I wouldn’t be able to do both and chose soccer at an early age. I saw (the flier to kick) and couldn’t pass it up.”
With one more field goal this season, Begle will reach his total output from 2012, when he took over full-time kicking duties and finished second in team scoring, behind only running back Josh Voegerl.
And Begle has got a leg. Anyone who has seen the ball humming after one of his strikes in soccer has witnessed his power. He said in practice he can make 55-yarders. The 40-yarder on Friday marked a career-long for him, but he said his goal has always been to make it from 50 in a game.
“We feel comfortable in close games, especially if we have one down the road where we have to have a 30-yarder to win,” Ranger coach Ross Fuhs said. “We feel extremely comfortable putting Dakota in to kick it instead of going for a touchdown to win.”
But if Begle’s success is nothing new, it’s the play of punter Reece Heilers that has everyone, even Heilers, surprised.
“With (Voegerl’s) back all messed up, I’ve kind of been the punter for him,” Heilers said, “but turns out I’m pretty good at it.”
Heilers, a receiver and defensive back, has been the fill-man for Voegerl, who missed week one with a back injury. Heading into the first game, the Rangers had a spot to fill.
“It was a kind of a thing where before practice (Heilers) was punting it pretty well and we said, ”˜Hey, you’re our punter,” Fuhs said.
Heilers has done so well, though, that he’s retained the position. He is averaging almost 31 yards a punt with a long of 48.
“(He’s) had no bad punts,” Fuhs said. “It’s kind of a challenge for him now, see if he can punt it farther the next game. Every punt in practice he takes it serious and wants to get better at it now that he’s doing it. ... Actually, he’s kind of surprised some people (on the coverage team), kicked it over their heads.”
“(My goals) are just to kick it as far as I can and kick it towards the sideline more,” Heilers said. “If I could average 40 yards, that’d be perfect.”
It’s also a priority to be punting less.
Therein lies the problem of the punter and the kicker doing so well: it can be a product of other deficiencies. Punting means failure to convert first downs and field goals mean failures to convert touchdowns. As great as it is to have a solid kicking game, it’s not every coach’s No. 1 priority.
“It’s not good if you have to rely on (Dakota) on being your number one offensive producer,” Fuhs said. “But it’s nice to have it in your back pocket if you need it.”
Still, Begle embraces the position, even if it might not always embrace him. There are basically two outcomes for every field goal attempt, and one of them is going to be more accepted than the other.
For Begle, it comes down to mental preparation. He’s possessed the physical tools from the beginning — the leg, the accuracy — but he’s developed the mental game over time.
“Football kicking is a big mental game. You have to envision what you’re going to do before you kick,” Begle said. “(Kicking coach Derrick Phillips) is always telling me to kick through and keep my head down. ... The pressure got to me a lot more when I was younger, just kind of being thrown in there and expected to go out (and perform) as a young player. As I’ve got older I’ve learned to handle it. It takes a lot of experience to handle those nerves.”
One of these days, Forest Park will win its first football game of the season. And if Begle wins the game on a 50-yarder, Fuhs envision how some of the celebration might go down.
“We’ll probably carry him off the field,” Fuhs said. “It’ll be like one of those pro or college things and we’ll have to jump on him, pick him up and carry him off the field. Maybe even give him a Gatorade bath.”
Contact Joseph Fanelli at email@example.com
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