At a time of year when players across South Florida are getting exposure that camps, combines and 7-on-7 events provide, there is a very important part of a football team that works just as hard, but never receives attention.
Welcome to the world of a special teams punter, snapper and kicker. Positions that are never embraced until a game-winning kick or a precision punt is made. This is a group of athletes who have over the years elevated their standing — with more and more scholarships being awarded.
While several former kickers and punters have gotten into the business of teaching and bringing these athletes along, there is nobody who has done more than St. Thomas Aquinas coach Tim Conrad.
So well respected is Conrad that college coaches flock to his practices every year, and with a track record that began in 2002 with St. Thomas punter Jay Ottovegio going to Stanford and Deerfield Beach standout C.J. Koegel, who achieved All-American status before heading out to the University of Massachusetts, this is someone who has truly been a pioneer in developing top-fight kickers.
Through his BIGFoot Kicking Academy, Conrad has been able to bring along some of the top prospects in the country. His reputation that included working with such standouts as Michigan State’s Brett Swenson (St. Thomas), Auburn’s Wes Byrum (St. Thomas), Minnesota’s Chris Secrest (McArthur), Notre Dame’s Ben Turk (St. Thomas) and Tennessee’s Michael Palardy (St. Thomas) among others, has helped pave the way for some up and coming standouts.
“The one thing that I tell every young man and their parent before starting with us, is if you aren’t here to work, this may not be for you,” Conrad said. “You get to be the next Marshall Morgan [Georgia], Josh Brisk [FIU] and Justin DuVernois [Illinois] by making sacrifices and improving.”
While Conrad understands that the life of a special teams player is often taken for granted, he also comprehends that his kickers or punters will have the chance to steal the spotlight — at least for a moment.
Swenson was one of the best kickers in NCAA history, and shattered Michigan State records. Morgan had a solid freshman year with the Bulldogs.
The special teams players from South Florida have began to show up at schools such as Toledo, Arkansas, Duke, UCF, FAU, Louisiana Lafayette, Wagner, Michigan, Towson and others.
As the 2013 season is set to get under way with spring football coming up over the next two months, there are some impressive legs getting ready to show what they can do.
The Class of 2014 in Broward is going to be tremendous. Miami-Dade also has some prospects, but they figure to emerge in the next two classes.
Here is a look at the top five for the Class of 2014:
• Vince Burburan, P, Parkland Douglas. Vince has the ability to be the top punter in Florida. He needs to work on consistency and get-off time but one of the most committed players I have worked with in the 13 years I have coached here in south Florida.
• Andrew DiRocco, Punter/Kicker, Fort Lauderdale University School. DiRocco has been training with Conrad since DiRocco was 12. He is the first kicker from South Florida to receive a scholarship offer in the class of 2014 (offered by University of Hawaii).
• Blake Horn, PK, Davie Western: Horn was a first team All-County selection at kicker from The Miami Herald last season and has an absolute cannon for a leg. There is early interest from the Ivy League schools already as he is a top student in the classroom too.
• John Semerene, PK, Weston Cypress Bay. As thousands have already watched on YouTube, here is a young man with one of the strongest legs in the state. If he is able to develop more consistency he will be one of the best kickers in the nation.
• Scott Wade, PK/P, Plantation American Heritage. Yet another of those All County selections from a year ago, Wade has the chance to be the best dual specialist, kicking and punting, in the county this upcoming season.
A few more for 2014: Alejandro Cardenas, PK, Miami LaSalle; Zach Cicero, PK, Fort Lauderdale St. Thomas Aquinas; Charles Courtney, PK, Fort Lauderdale St. Thomas Aquinas; Adrian Izquierdo, PK, South Miami; Jeff Keller, P/PK, Fort Lauderdale University School; Grant Kurzner, PK, Miami Gulliver Prep; Emilio Morales, PK, Miami Mosnignor Pace; Jorge Powell, PK, Miami Belen Jesuit.
• Uriel Hernandez, PK, Homestead. Outstanding leg strength and power. Develops accuracy and fine tunes his game/commitment — he could be one of the best in 2015.
• Isaac Mercado, PK, Davie Western. Extremely consistent and incredible form — needs to develop more strength and he will be one of the best in south Florida his senior year.
• Declan Rodriguez, PK/P, Fort Lauderdale Cardinal Gibbons. Similar to Mercado — with outstanding form and consistency. Needs to work on developing flexibility and strength.
CLASS OF 2016
Conrad believes that this is going to be one of the better years locally:
• Michael Grehl , PK, Fort Lauderdale St. Thomas. Grehl has outstanding consistency and great leg strength for a freshman. Needs to be committed to the art of kicking.
• Austin Laszewski, PK, Southwest Ranches Archbishop McCarthy. Here is certainly a kicker who has everything you need. Will mature and has the chase to rise to the top.
• James (Seamus) McCord, PK, Fort Lauderdale St. Thomas Aquinas. Another prospect with potential, but it’s very early and the commitment needs to be there - all of the time.
• Corey Pastor, PK, Miami Coral Reef. Big time leg, and if he develops, has the potential to be one of the top kickers in the nation.
We are always looking to help promote our area recruits for the current Class of 2014, 2015, 2016 and 2017. All you have to do is send a video link and information about the athlete to Floridakids1@aol.com.
Follow Larry on Twitter at twitter.com/larryblustein.