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Hart's Andrew Nielsen has good habits that are hard to kick

Andrew Nielsen's gym bag contains everything a kicker needs to work out on his own: Water bottles, sunscreen, tee, cleats, extra socks, three footballs, two pumps, a speaker for music …

"It's a lonely life," the Newhall Hart High senior said. "I come out every day by myself. I love it because I know the coaches respect what I do, support me and give me chances to make a difference on the field."

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Last season, Nielsen made seven of 10 field goals, including a school-record 54-yarder. He frequently booms kickoffs into the end zone and averaged a little over 40 yards a punt. Add to that, the the son of Hart Principal Collyn Nielsen has a 4.5 grade-point average.

"If you perform, it's an easy life," he said. "If you don't, it's a little stressful."

Nielsen is 5 feet 10, 165 pounds and skilled enough to help out his team in ways beyond kicking.

"He's such a good athlete he could play corner and receiver," Coach Mike Herrington said. "But Mom is real scared of that. I don't care if Dad is my boss. The boss of that family is Mom."

Nielsen was a soccer player for much of his life until his cousin, former Crespi High kicker Pat Cassley, introduced him to kicking before his freshman year.

Through attending camps and repetition, Nielsen has learned the fundamentals required to be successful. And the off-season is a critical time for preparation.

"It's really a mental game, and if you can get right mentally then you're going to be consistent and have a great year," he said. "You work hard, lift, stretch, make sure you're flexible, do your muscle memory, clear your mind and kick. That's all there is to it."

To see the ball soar after a Nielsen kick provides a glimpse of his power and precision. But it's difficult for him to enjoy seeing the ball in flight, because he has to focus on where it ends up.

"If you look up, it has a tendency of going left," he said. "You don't ever want to look up. Wait until you hear the crowd. They'll cheer if it's good. They won't if it's bad."

Field goals give Nielsen satisfaction, because he's helping the team put points on the scoreboard. But kickoffs give him an adrenaline rush.

"I love hitting a nice kickoff," he said. "I love booting the heck out of the ball."

Herrington enjoys the kickoffs too, because they usually result in opponents having to start at the 20-yard line following a touchback. But this season, Nielsen could get the opportunity to test his leg even more.

"With his range, we're really excited because anywhere 55 yards in we have a good chance to make a field goal," Herrington said.

That would make Herrington's boss happy too. And his boss.

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Follow Eric Sondheimer on Twitter @LATSondheimer

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