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Hitting 50 has become the thing to do for high school kickers

There was a time when field goals beyond 50 yards in high school football were rare. Now, with so many ex-soccer players receiving lessons from private coaches, long field goals are as much a part of the game as 100-yard rushing performances.

Take the example of 150-pound senior Neil Franklin from Apple Valley. He had never played football until this season.

“I played soccer all my life and decided there would be more scholarship opportunities for football,” he said.

Franklin spent the summer learning kicking fundamentals from private kicking tutor Hugo Castellanos.

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“You could tell he was an athlete and could strike a ball,” Castellanos said.

So far, Franklin has made field goals from 55, 47 and 42 yards.

Special teams, whether it be kicking or punting, returning punts or returning kickoffs, continues to gain in importance.

Unbeaten Los Angeles Dorsey has scored five touchdowns in four games using special teams. The Dons have two punt returns for touchdowns, a kickoff return for a touchdown and they have also blocked two punts for touchdowns.

Among kickers, Wes Harris from Lake Forest El Toro has made a 55-yard field goal. Connor Loftus from Anaheim Servite has a 52-yarder. Andrew Boehm from Newport Beach Corona del Mar has made nine field goals.

Sophomore Brandt Davis from La Verne Bonita has made five of six field goals to help his team to a 4-0 start.

Woodland Hills Taft would never have beaten Sherman Oaks Notre Dame this season without a game-winning field goal from sophomore Jordan Dascalo, who has become one of the best special teams weapons in the City Section after moving from Northern California.

What ties many of the kickers together is that they receive lessons from a growing number of competent private coaches. Castellanos, based in Fontana, has been giving free lessons for years. Others charge a fee, such as ex-kickers Chris Sailer and Paul Stonehouse. But they are producing results.

And there are even private instructors for long snappers, such as San Fernando Valley-based Chris Rubio.

“The kicking game has received a lot of attention in the last 10 years,” Castellanos said.

The kicker who has beaten USC the last two seasons on game-ending field goals, Erik Folk of Washington, went to Notre Dame, is a protege of Sailer and is the younger brother of New York Jets kicker Nick Folk. USC Coach Lane Kiffin called two timeouts trying to ice Folk. He only smiled, because the private coaches prepare their kickers for just such a situation.

Folk and Franklin represent the kicker generation who grew up with private coaching, and there are many more to come. It’s changing the sport.

A master teacher

Harry Welch won eight Southern Section championships at Canyon Country Canyon and San Juan Capistrano St. Margaret’s. He’s the only coach to win CIF state football bowl championships with two different schools.

He relishes challenges, so taking over the program this season at Santa Margarita, which competes in the Trinity League, was perfect for him. And what an impact he has made. The Eagles are 4-1, including routs of Los Alamitos and Carson.

“I didn’t think we would be 4-1,” Welch said. “We’re playing with tremendous ferocity and intensity.”

Welch is very good at developing quarterbacks, and he has another good one in Adam Young, a 6-foot-2 senior who rushed for 142 yards and passed for 157 yards in a 31-7 win over Los Alamitos on Saturday. Young played junior varsity last season after transferring from Tesoro.

“He’s probably the best-kept secret in high school,” Welch said. “He’s pretty special.”

Welch is scheduled for a surgical procedure on Monday for prostate cancer. The team has a bye this week. Everyone’s focus will be on making sure Welch is OK. But knowing him, his recovery will be swift. He wouldn’t have it any other way.

“I’m committed to the kids and the community,” Welch said.

eric.sondheimer@latimes.com

Twitter.com/LATSondheimer


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