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Saturday, August 29, 2009

Rankings Services and Scholarships

Today I received an email and telephone call from a very elated father, Sam Lichtenstein. Sam's son Ryan was one of my One on One Lessons this summer in Scottsdale, Arizona. Sam was informed that his son Ryan was named the starting kicker at Syracuse University.

Ryan, who is a freshman walk-on from Gateway High School in Monroeville, PA recently beat out a freshman scholarship kicker who was ranked a top kicker at one of the many 'elite' kicking camps held throughout the country.

The irony of this was when I first met met Sam and his son Ryan, they made it a point to tell me how disappointed they were that Ryan, who was one of the top kickers in the state of Pennsylvania, had not received any kicking scholarship offers from any universities.

Sam said he was concerned Ryan may have been passed over for a college scholarship because he had lost his 'rankings' after he had stopped attending one of the kicking camps that 'ranked' players. To him, it seemed that colleges and universities rely on these 'rankings' to award scholarships to kicking specialists.

Sam said Ryan had attended some of these camps during his sophomore year, but stopped going because he realized the camps were more about competition, rankings, and not about coaching.

But regardless all of this, here he was after a few months and a few One on One lessons, securing a starting position at a major university. Ryan's dad has reason to be elated!

This situation with Ryan re-enforced an issue which I hear about from many parents who bring their sons to me for One on One lessons and one, as a former college special teams coach, is of particular concern to me. And that is how some colleges and universities seem to base their scholarships awards to kicking specialist's base on these so called 'rankings' from kicking camps around the county rather than on a kicker's talent and ability.

Rankings which seem to be based primarily on how 'big' a kickers leg is, how many times a player attends one of these camps and how many private lessons they take from a head instructor. Rankings which have no consistent standard conforming with college or professional football requirements, as illustrated by the fact many of these kicking specialists are ranked kicking off 'tees' while others are not.

There are no kicking 'block or tees' for field goal kicking in college football.
When I was college coach and recruited kickers, one of the biggest obstacles for a high school kicker transitioning from high school to college was kicking off a one or two inch block to the ground. And I don't believe this has changed through the years.

During our initial conversation, Sam told me he believed that these camps that evaluate and 'rank' kickers seem to be more about about competition and rankings rather than coaching. He also said it concerned him because even though Ryan had attended a few of these camps and was 'ranked' well, he lost his ranking as he stopped attending them.

And to Sam, that meant that Ryan's loss of 'ranking' would mean his chances of receiving a scholarship would be jeopardized.

Sam is not the only father who has said there seemed to be a correlation between the number of times a kicking specialist attended a camp and how many private lessons they took, impacted the rankings they received.
It appeared when they stopped attending these camps and feeding the 'money tree' their rankings would diminish.

Many parents have told me the same thing.

Unfortunately what this means is that parents, who want to improve their son's chances of getting a scholarship, have to be able to afford many camps, travel expenses, lessons, or they have to watch their child move down in the rankings.

The 'ranking' issue is not the only issue parents have expressed concerns with.

Many fathers have told me the camps that 'rank' players, seem to offer 'little to no' actual coaching. They say their sons get to compete and get ranked at these camps, but rarely get the instruction needed to improve their technique to make them better kickers, punters or snappers and take their game to the next level.

The troubling part of this is it seems many universities and colleges around the country recruit their kicking specialists, and give scholarships based on these 'rankings'. This, regardless the fact that the kicker may or may not have the skills and techniques necessary to compete at a college level.

This certainly brings up an interesting point.

When a major university invests tens of thousands of dollars a year in scholarship money on an a potential kicking specialist or athlete, you would think they would want to recruit the 'best' kicking specialist possible and not just the one that was recommend through a 'ranking' system.

When I was recruiting kicking specialists or football players I know we wanted to invest in the best players possible.

I was a college coach for eleven years and it was my goal to only recruit walk-ons who had the potential to be excellent kicking specialists. After a kicker would walk-on I would work fundamentals and drills with these players and refine their technique.
We only gave the scholarships to players that earned it. We didn't give scholarships because I was told they 'ranked' highly at some camp run by someone I didn't know.

In my opinion football scholarships are investments for the future of the college or university football program. A university can't afford to make too many mistakes or have too many bad investments, and this is why they should be recruiting the best player, not the best 'ranked' player.

The key to any kicking specialists or athletes development is fundamentals, drills and technique, not 'rankings'.

I am very happy for Sam and Ryan. Ryan has worked hard and diligently on his kicking technique to be the best he can be. His hard work has paid dividends. He has now secured a starting position and must work hard to keep that position.

This situation has shown me or again proved the point that kickers and punters with good fundamentals and technique will -and should- prevail over players that -in my opinion- can seemingly buy their rankings.

Sam and Ryan realized that One on One Lessons were a path to a college scholarship and perhaps in the future a path to playing professional football.

In August Coach Zauner once again worked with Ryan in Pittsburgh before he left for Syracuse.

Click below to listen to Sam Lichenstein's testimonial about his son Ryan working with Coach Zauner.

Two days later Ryan was awarded a 'Full Scholarship' as the starting kicker!

"Congratulations Ryan"

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