Miami Central’s football team has had its share of star players on offense and defense during its three consecutive trips to state.
But often the difference-maker in close games has been the right foot of senior kicker Emilio Nadelman.
“That kid has been a big plus to have on our team the past three seasons,” Central coach Telly Lockette said. “He’s got the ability to kick the ball into the end zone every time on kickoffs, and he’s been just as big for us as a field-goal kicker.”
The Rockets (11-2) play undefeated Gainesville (14-0) at 1 p.m. Saturday as they chase their second state championship in three seasons.
Both teams have similarly dominant running games and solid defenses.
But Central knows it will likely have a decisive advantage again on special teams thanks to its clutch and consistent kicker.
“[Nadelman] made a 54-yard field goal against Melbourne Palm Bay [in the third round] that was huge,” Lockette said. “It’s been a blessing for us to have him.”
Nadelman has made 29 of 48 field goals during his three seasons at Central, often missing only field goals in excess of 50 or even 60 yards, which the Rockets are not afraid to have him attempt.
Nadelman is 9 of 13 on field goals this season, converting a long of 55 yards, and is a perfect 70 for 70 on extra points. Throughout his career with the Rockets, he has been consistent on extra points, making 212 of 215.
Last season, Nadelman successfully converted game-winning field goals against Booker T. Washington, Cincinnati Elder, Columbus and Belen Jesuit.
But one of his most valuable contributions has been field position.
Nadelman (5-9, 185 pounds), a University of South Florida commitment, has booted the ball through the end zone on nearly every kickoff since becoming the starting kicker for the Rockets his sophomore season after transferring from Doral Academy. He has more than 50 touchbacks this season, and often his kickoffs clear the back of the end zone.
Nadelman has given Central an added dimension this year by taking over full-time punting duties. Nadelman is averaging 45 yards per punt, with his longest a 63-yard effort. He also has pinned opponents inside the 20-yard line 13 times this season.
“With punting, kicking it far wasn’t hard, but I had to learn to kick it higher and get more hang time,” Nadelman said.
A good teacher
Nadelman, who was born and raised in Miami by his mother, Soraya, and father, Emilio Sr., grew up playing soccer and was a midfielder for Central until his junior season.
Nadelman has been coached by his father, Emilio Sr., a Chilean native, who played soccer and is the Rockets’ kicking coach as well as boys’ soccer coach.
Nadelman didn’t take up football until he was invited by former Central and current Northwestern defensive coordinator Luther Campbell to try out for one of his youth league teams at age 11.
“They had about 10 kids try out, and he blew them away,” Emilio Sr. said. “They were impressed with his strength and ability.”
Nadelman developed his talents as both a kicker and punter when he started playing Optimist football with the Doral Broncos. His soccer background and training regimen helped him master his technique relatively quickly. Nadelman said he often runs on the beach and in water to develop his leg strength. He has even begun to try kicking with his left leg and has been able to connect on field goals as long as 45 yards in practice kicking lefty.
“Kicking the football isn’t too much different than kicking the soccer ball even though it’s a different shape,” Nadelman said. “It’s just hit it low to get height on it, and for me, once I learned that, it was just a matter of getting it high and far.”
Nadelman, who has a 3.2 GPA, is graduating this month and enrolling early at USF.
Although he hopes to take his football talent as far as the NFL, he already is planning his education and wants to study sports medicine.
“I’ve always wanted to understand how to deal with injuries and how to help others,” Nadelman said. “I’ve gone through some issues myself, and I’d love to know how to help people one day.”
Nadelman is already mentoring his 12-year-old brother, Jordan, a sixth-grader at Doral Academy who already is emerging as a top youth league kicker.
Although Miami-Dade County might have another Nadelman starring among kickers in a few years, Emilio has one more game and maybe one more clutch kick he hopes to deliver to leave a legacy at Central.