Kicking is his business, and business is good
Josh Sparkman takes three-and-half steps back, evens his feet and then takes two more to the left.
Every field-goal attempt. Every point-after try.
Kickers need rhythym, consistency and a cool head. Sparkman, Frenship’s senior placekicker, has all three.
“Before every kick I visualize the ball going through the uprights. A perfect kick right down the middle,” said Sparkman, as he demonstrated how to put a football directly down the middle.
The calm Sparkman described how he became Frenship’s starting kicker, and how he developed the passion for the sometimes thankless duty.
Like most high-school-age kickers in Texas, Sparkman found his kicking roots in soccer. Sparkman played until sixth grade when he turned his focus into a different kind of football.
He played wide receiver and cornerback at Frenship Middle School — which he continued to do through his sophomore year in high school — but his primary strength was in his right foot.
He said he tried out in sixth grade for the spot, and has been kicking ever since.
“In sixth grade it’s just like, ‘if you think you can kick, you can try out,’ ” Sparkman recalled earlier this week.
He calls himself a soccer-style kicker, wearing his Nike soccer boots as he lines up each kick during practice.
Sparkman says he still has some bad habits left over from kicking a soccer ball, but they’re hard to notice.
“If he did, he’s cured them,” said Frenship coach Lonnie Kuss, who coaches kickers for the Tigers.
Kickers can be real head cases, which has been well documented through the last two decades.
“First thing that you have to do when you’re coaching a kicker is you want to make sure that you back off,” Kuss said. “You don’t want to get on to them too hard or anything because they feel bad enough as it is if they get a bad kickoff.”
In middle school, teams don’t tend to kick field goals too often, so Sparkman said he’s never been too tense on a field-goal situation (he went 5-of-6 last year, with a long of 41 and his only miss from 58 yards just before the half against Big Spring).
Kickoffs were a different story.
“My freshman and JV year I started out doing pretty good, but then as the year went along I started to kind of drop off a little bit and every time I would go out for a kickoff I was like, ‘I really hope I don’t mess this up.’ I would just think like that every time, and that’s what would happen.”
Last year, when Sparkman made the jump to varsity and only concentrated on kicking, is when he decided he wasn’t going to let his mind get in the way of his head.
“I kept telling myself, I can’t be thinking like that if I’m going to be a varsity kicker,” he said, “and I just started telling myself before every kick: ‘This doesn’t look too far, I can do this, I’m a great kicker.’
“I reassure myself before every kick so that’s really built my confidence up a lot.”
Sparkman estimates he will kick between 70 and 75 attempts in a day, spending as much as 90 minutes by himself in the indoor facility.
Sometimes kickers can be distant from the rest of the team, adding to the pressure felt when missing a kick.
“I’ve never felt like I’m not a part of the team,” Sparkman said. “In the locker room, on the game field, I’m just like everybody else. I’ve never been excluded or anything like that.”
Sparkman knows kicking is his best asset as a football player. A few colleges know it, too.
He said he has gotten some offers from smaller, Division III schools, but his top two choices now are Tarleton State and North Texas. He’s also received material from Houston.
Sparkman has gone to camps, and worked out with former Texas Tech kickers Donnie Carona and Scott Segrist.
Quarterback Trevor Lloyd, who held for Sparkman last year, knows the kicker can make it from beyond 50 yards, and he expects him to if called upon during the game.
He also knows Sparkman isn’t the kind of guy to get rattled or upset during a bad hold — which Sparkman practices for, just in case.
“Sparkman’s defiantly not the kind of guy to lose it,” Lloyd said.
Last year, he was all business on the field, running onto the field not knowing exactly how far the kick was and drowning out all outside interference.
This year is going to be a little different, though.
“This year I’m going to try to have a little more fun with it,” he said. “You know, senior year and all. I mean, I’m still going to be pretty much all business, but I’m going to let myself celebrate a little bit.”
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