If the most thankless job in football is on the offensive line, the position of place kicker has to be a close second.
Kickers are rarely called into action in the high school game, and when they fail to execute, there is nothing to mask those mistakes.
Most teams prefer to go for a fourth-down conversion in the red zone. The reasons vary. Some games, it makes sense to go for it, as teams find themselves in a shootout with the other offense. In other cases, the timing might seem right for the field-goal attempt, but the coach does not want to risk giving up field position.
So while the rare, end-of-game scenario may offer a chance to be a hero, more often, the kicker is faced with an internal pressure. It is the pressure of knowing that a single missed extra point try can be looked back on as a point where the game turned on its head.
With that said, a handful of locals ranked among the top performers in the West Coast Kicking Academy's All-Orange County camp over the weekend.
Corona del Mar High's Max Casper is considered a top-five kicker entering the year. As a junior last season, Casper converted seven field goals with a long of 42 yards. He will also serve as the team's punter.
A spot of trouble that could come up for the Sea Kings is if Casper's status changes during the course of a game. The senior also plays free safety, where he will be exposed to some big hits if receivers challenge the CdM secondary.
The first element of a good field-goal unit is the snap. Corona del Mar's Kyle Petrucci has been among the area's best at long snapper for a couple of years. This year will be his third as a starter for the 6 feet 5, 250-pound senior.
Petrucci zips the ball back to the holder in about 0.65-0.70 seconds, and West Coast Kicking Academy director Brad Bohn says that he is able to snap field goals so that the laces are already facing forward.
A Kohl's long snapping event winner in the spring, Petrucci has placed Stanford, USC, Washington, and Cal among his schools of interest.
Nick Lopez, a Huntington Beach resident, is expected to take over the kickoff duties for Mater Dei. The junior has some big shoes to fill, as Chase McGrath (USC) departs after securing All-County honors at kicker last year. In his senior campaign, McGrath booted the kickoff out of the back of the end zone for a touchback at a 79.2 percent clip (84 of 106). Ryan Stonehouse (Colorado State), the Monarchs' All-County punter in 2016, has also graduated.
Bohn is calling Lopez the best non-returning starter in the county, saying, "(He is) unproven on the field, but he could be a difference-maker for the Monarchs."
Lopez has a younger brother, a sophomore named RJ. If he was not blocked by his brother, Bohn says that he would start almost anywhere else. RJ Lopez was the overall field goal champion of the West Coast Kicking Academy All-County Camp. He has shown the ability to connect from 55 yards out.
Edison was the local school to bring home a CIF Southern Section title last year in Division 3. Having seen all the big stages last year, senior Jack Morrell returns for the Chargers. He was good on nine field goals last year, and he averaged 36 yards per punt. He also converted 63 of 65 PATs (96.9 percent), so he is a reliable asset.
Newport Harbor's Spencer Blake could be a real weapon for the Sailors' defense. His huge leg will certainly make opponents go the length of the field. That will give him more opportunities to hunt the quarterback from his spot at defensive tackle. Blake dropped 30 pounds coming into training camp after making himself a presence in the throws during the track and field season. He topped 50 feet in shot put and 150 feet in discus for Newport Harbor in the spring.
Sean Nolan is another kicker who is asked to do it all. The Laguna Beach Breaker caught four touchdowns as a wide receiver last year, adding four interceptions from the free safety position. As a sophomore, he made 90.5 percent of his extra points (38 of 42). He added six field goals. His season-best was 38 yards.
As for those pegged to be the county's best, Dylan Brady of Santa Margarita gets the preseason nod for place kickers. He has 60-yard field-goal range and is interested in the Ivy League schools, as well as Cal and Stanford.
JSerra's Jake Haggard is considered the county's premier punter. He has offers on the table from Army and the University of Pennsylvania. He also was perfect on 59 extra points last season.
"Jake is the most consistent punter in the county with the combination of distance and hang time," Bohn raves. "He has the ability to flip the field and help JSerra's defense."