"Kickers are a strange breed," says Miraleste High football Coach Tony Bantula.
He should know. Bantula's stepson, Brett Ostergard, does the kicking for the Marauders.
But the popular image of kickers as scrawny, non-athletic and flaky does not apply in this family. Bantula clearly sees Ostergard as a breed apart.
"He's a leader," the first-year coach said. "He's one of our captains and one of our hardest workers."
A two-way starter, the 6-foot-2, 235-pound Ostergard plays offensive guard and defensive tackle in addition to handling kicking and punting. Rarely does the versatile senior come off the field.
"He does pretty much whatever we ask him to do," Bantula said.
More than a few spectators at Redondo High thought Bantula was asking too much Sept. 7, when he called on Ostergard to attempt a 57-yard field goal in the first quarter of Miraleste's opener against Redondo.
Tim Ammentorp, Redondo's defensive coordinator, was one of the skeptics.
"I was telling our kids to just stay off the kicker, because there's no way he's going to make a 57-yarder," he said. "Then he kicked it through (the goal posts) by eight, 10 yards. There wasn't any question. I had to look again at the distance. I thought I might have been looking at the wrong yard marker. It was one heck of a kick."
Ostergard, a former soccer player who took up kicking two years ago, was an immediate sensation. The 57-yard effort represented the fifth-longest field goal in CIF-Southern Section history--former USC receiver Erik Affholter holds the record with a 64-yarder for Oak Park High of Agoura in 1982--and it apparently caught the attention of college recruiters.
"I got a letter from Colorado a few days after that," said Ostergard, who has also received inquiries from USC, Stanford, Washington State, Oregon State and other schools. "I would like to play the line in college. But if I can't, I'd like to make it as a kicker."
Ostergard increased the chances of that happening Saturday by accounting for all of Miraleste's points in a 15-9 loss to Moorpark with field goals of 44, 42 and 40 yards. He missed on his fourth attempt, a 47-yard try that had enough distance but was wide.
He has made four of five attempts (80%) this season, all from 40 yards or longer. Last year, he connected on three field goals, including a 47-yarder.
"He wants to play in the NFL," said Bantula, a former running back with the New York Giants. "He could do very well. I've been watching football for a long time. He could have done well (in the NFL) last weekend. The poor Rams couldn't kick a 30-yarder."
Ostergard says he worked on improving his accuracy last summer, practicing three times a week and lifting weights to increase his leg strength. His best lifts are 550 pounds in the squat and 300 in the bench press.
He said he has kicked field goals of more than 60 yards in practice, a feat confirmed by Bantula.
"He kicks them out of the ball park," he said. "At $60 a ball, it gets expensive. We make him try long ones so we know they'll stay in the park."
Ostergard, who wears size 12 shoes, says he developed his kicking power by playing youth soccer. He stopped playing soccer after eighth grade, but said he intends to go out for the Miraleste soccer team after football season. He became backup kicker for the varsity football team as a sophomore despite not having any formal instruction.
"I used to be a fullback in soccer and I could kick the ball pretty far," he said. "I just tried (kicking) one day, and it worked pretty good.
"I haven't tried to emulate anyone. I just have my own way. Once I get it down, I go with that until I try something else. It usually works."
Bantula, who has known Ostergard since the youngster was 8, attributes his stepson's kicking prowess to leg strength.
"He's always been a big kid with long legs," he said. "He works hard on his leg muscles. Soccer and kicking just came naturally (to him) because he's got strong legs.
"But being able to kick the long ball doesn't mean anything. You've got to get it over. Accuracy is the most important thing, and that can only be taught with practice and repetition."
Ostergard's kicking range gives Miraleste scoring capabilities few high school teams enjoy. "When we get inside the 50," he said, "I feel at least I can give it a try."
Unfortunately for the Marauders, they have had trouble getting the ball in the end zone. They'll bring a 1-2 record record into a non-league game against Daniel Murphy at 3 p.m. Friday at Miraleste.
"I wish we could score a few more points," Bantula said. "We had five scoring opportunities last week (against Moorpark), but we only made three field goals. That's not good for us. It's good to have a guy like that, but I'd rather score some touchdowns."
Ostergard, who takes pride in his play as a lineman, feels the same way.
"I like the hitting," he said. "I love it."
A different breed of kicker? No doubt about it.