Sports

And here's the kicker ...

Senior Aaron La Deaux has developed into a top-notch kicker for South Kitsap. - Jim Robertson photo
Senior Aaron La Deaux has developed into a top-notch kicker for South Kitsap.
— image credit: Jim Robertson photo

The extra point appears so simple that it often is an afterthought among football fans.

But in high school, it often has been anything but easy. Coaches often would eschew an extra point for a two-point conversion less than a decade ago because they viewed it as a higher-probability success. Punts and even fourth-and-long situations also were regarded as much better scenarios than short field goals.

That has changed at many local high schools — including South Kitsap. Wolves senior Aaron La Deaux, who kicked a 48-yard field goal Oct. 14 against Mount Tahoma, represents the shift in Class 4A Narrows.

La Deaux’s field goal was the longest by a South player since Ryan Laureau converted a 50-yard kick in 1995 against Cascade.

“I really didn’t think that much about it,” La Deaux said. “I didn’t think it was that far. I just lined up and kicked it.”

Perhaps it became an afterthought because of the work La Deaux has done with assistant coach Cory Vartanian. At Horlick High School in Wisconsin, Vartanian was dubbed “the most successful kicker in the history of Racine County high school football” in 2001 by the Journal Times newspaper. Vartanian then kicked from 2002-05 at North Dakota State University.

Vartanian came to South last season after a two-year stint at the University of Rochester in New York. That also marked La Deaux’s first season as a varsity kicker.

“It was easy to coach Aaron because he is a great athlete,” Vartanian said. “I had to work more on a natural leg swing, soccer style. It’s just all of the steps and mechanics that go into kicking. There’s a lot that goes into it.”

That includes the summer, where there are a variety of kicking camps. Former UCLA standout Chris Sailer holds one around the country and Kohl’s kicking, punting and snapping camp proclaims to have more than 500 former participants playing college football.

South coach D.J. Sigurdson said the influx of soccer players and offseason camps vastly has improved the quality of the kicking game at high schools. He said that with the exception of Mount Tahoma, every team the Wolves have faced this season has featured a strong kicking game.

Vartanian takes it a step further.

“Coaches are becoming smarter and are starting to see the importance of a kicking game,” he said. “It’s really good to see.”

La Deaux is not even the most accomplished kicker in 4A Narrows. That would be Gig Harbor’s Korey Durkee, who kicked a 45-yard field goal in the Tides’ 30-20 win Sept. 30 against South. Coach Darren McKay said after that game that Durkee’s range extends at least 10 yards beyond that. Durkee accepted a scholarship offer to the University of Washington earlier this year.

“In the first half we turned the ball over four times and twice in the red zone,” McKay said at the time. “For us it was even double compounding because we have Korey Durkee and we always feel that even if we get stopped, we have a really good opportunity at three points.”

While Durkee has settled on a university, La Deaux said he is open to any school. He said he sent out some of his highlights from his junior year to several colleges and will finalize his senior highlights once the year ends.

“The whole scholarship and recruiting process is hard and long,” said La Deaux, whose older brother, Leon, is a redshirt freshman wide receiver at Central Washington. “You just kind of have to wait and hope for your lucky break.”

Vartanian said La Deaux has improved dramatically since last year. He said most kickers La Deaux’s age use a 2-inch tee, but they have cut him down to half that length in preparation for college, where the tool is not allowed for extra points and field goals. Vartanian said they also focused on La Deaux’s footwork during the offseason, which turned out to be a much quicker process than anticipated.

“I only had to teach him three or four times and he caught on really quick,” he said. “Once he got that down, he kind of took it on his own.”

La Deaux also attended the Kohl’s camp during the summer in Bothell. He said the focus there was just as much about live kicking as it was reviewing tape of that work and “a lot of breakdown with little details.”

In essence, Vartanian said kicking is its own sport because of the amount of time that is spent to hone the craft. He said that is one challenge La Deaux has faced during the last two seasons. Similar to his older brother, La Deaux is a dynamic talent who not only serves as South’s kicker and punter, but also starts at wide receiver and cornerback. He also made a start at quarterback last year.

Vartanian said the energy La Deaux exerts as a full-time starter hinders his consistency as a kicker. It is one reason why he believes La Deaux could be more successful in college than with the Wolves.

Another is his projectability. Vartanian, who is 5 foot 8, has the classic build of a kicker. But in an era where long field goals and touchbacks that negate the return game are desired, players with the stature of Durkee (6-4) and La Deaux (6-3) have become prototypes.

“He’s exactly what college coaches are looking for these days in a kicker these days in a collegiate kicker,” Vartanian said. “He definitely has the strength to do it.”

Not just from a physical standpoint, but mentally. La Deaux attributes that quality to his mother, Emma, who was diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor during his freshman year. He was there as she battled through surgery and radiation — and learning to walk again. She is now in remission.

“She just really inspired me,” La Deaux said. “She pushed me to be better and focus.”

If he ever needs a reminder of the latter, Vartanian is there. La Deaux said he struggled through his warm-ups on the night where he kicked the 48-yard field goal.

“He told me not to worry about it; it’s completely different in the game,” he said.

La Deaux also had three extra points blocked during last week’s 60-28 win at Stadium. But Sigurdson attributed those problems to protection breakdowns and said they would be a focus in practice this before the Wolves host rival Central Kitsap tonight for 4A Narrows’ fourth — and final — playoff spot entering the state play-in game.

Three of the last six games between the rivals have been decided by 10 points or less. That might give La Deaux an opportunity to put the ledger in South’s favor.

“All of our team is willing to take on that role to get it done,” he said. “I’m sure 10 or 15 years from now if I am working with someone who graduated from CK in 2012, I could say, ‘Hey, we beat you that year.’ It would just be something nice to do considering the rivalry.”

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