Upland kicker makes a huge impact

From ball boy to kicking savior, that’s the path taken by 17-year-old Jake Van Ginkel of Upland High.

His trajectory toward kicking excellence started when he was 8. He’d tag along with his father, Pete, the kicking coach at Upland, who was trying to develop Jake’s two older brothers.

“They’d come out and kick, and I’d be a little ball boy and would go and kick with them,” Jake said.

A powerful leg developed through soccer only enhanced Van Ginkel’s potential as a kicker. As a freshman, he gained national attention when he made field goals from 58 and 57 yards in the same freshman game. As a sophomore, he made a 40-yard field goal against Etiwanda as time expired to send the game into overtime.

But it was last season, as a junior, when the 6-foot-1, 180-pounder displayed versatility and precision as a kicker and punter that propelled him to a different level.

He made 16 of 20 field goals and 40 of 41 extra points. He booted 48 kickoffs into the end zone for touchbacks. He averaged 40.7 yards on punts, sending 33 inside the 20-yard line and 12 inside the 10. He was a valuable weapon in helping Upland win the Central Division championship.

“A big reason we were CIF champs was his kicking ability,” Coach Tim Salter said. “He’s a fantastic punter. I just think he’s one of the elite kids in the nation at what he does.”

If practice makes perfect, then Van Ginkel is proof. He’ll spend hours kicking balls, with his father serving as holder and younger brothers Luke, 13, and Josh, 11, chasing the balls when they aren’t kicking.

Van Ginkel is so focused on the fundamentals of kicking that he easily could take over coaching his own group of kickers. His philosophy is that no matter whether there’s one second or 10 minutes left on a clock, it won’t affect his kick.

“Every kick is the same,” he said referring to his routine.

The power he produces with his leg is obvious. Balls he kicks soar into the sky. Van Ginkel said that during practice he once sent the ball through the uprights from 70 yards away.

Where does his passion come from?

“It’s kind of like golf,” he said. “If you go out and play golf for the first time, you’re not going to be real good at it and you don’t like it that much. But once you start doing it and getting good at it, it’s like a golf shot. When you hit it perfect, it just feels so good. It’s the same with football. Right when you hit the ball, it flies through the air. You crush it and it feels so good.”

As a punter, Van Ginkel made opposing teams drive the length of the field to score against the Highlanders because his punts usually left them starting from near their goal line.

Every Wednesday night, he’d practice coffin-corner punts.

“Every chance I got, I aimed to the corner, and hopefully it would get the right bounce and go inside the 20,” he said.

It has been 16 years since there was a kicker-punter who proved to be so valuable that he was named state player of the year. That was Chris Sailer from Sherman Oaks Notre Dame, who went on to become an All-American at UCLA.

Van Ginkel can have that kind of effect on a game.

“I’ve seen him kick since sixth grade,” Salter said. “We knew he was going to be special.”