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A cannon of a leg: Bobwhites have a long-range weapon in kicker Kelly


1:00 AM, Sep. 05, 2013 EDT
ST. ALBANS — 

Before the snap of the ball, Robert Kelly takes three steps back, then two more to his left and sets his feet.

As the holder takes the snap and pins the ball to the ground -- laces out -- Kelly is already in motion. He plants his left foot and swings the other to connect.

Boom.

Kelly, a BFA-St. Albans junior, can kick with accuracy -- and probably further than any other player in Vermont high school football today.

"It's not if I'm going to make it or not, it's if I'm going to make good solid contact with the ball," Kelly said.

With a cannon of a right leg, Kelly opened the 2013 season with a jaw-dropping, 52-yard field goal -- made with plenty of room to spare -- in the first quarter of a 16-10 overtime victory over Mount Mansfield last week.

"When you are looking from the crowd and do the math, you don't see that very often," BFA coach Geoff Murray said. "And then after he kicked it, I think it was silent for a moment and then people realized how far it was and then got pretty excited.

"Some people have asked about it around town and interested in knowing about Robert and how far he can kick," Murray said.

The answer: Hitting 60 yards is a reachable goal. Later in BFA's home win, Murray called for another field goal try, but Kelly's 61-yarder fell short by just a couple yards, the coach said.

"You don't see many kickers kick 40-yarders at this level of play," said holder Nick Berno, a senior. "And now he's almost kicking 60-yarders. It's ridiculous."

In a state where coaches struggle to find consistent kickers for point-after attempts, the Bobwhites have a bonafide offensive threat in Kelly, who also doubles as the team's starting quarterback in a run-first attack.

"It's a weapon we can use now. We get across midfield and (opponents) will want to drive us back now," Berno said. "If they don't, we are scoring points -- if it's a touchdown or a field goal."

Added snapper Joel Parady: "Maybe, we're down by only a couple of points and now we can go for a field goal without having to go the extra 30 yards for a touchdown."

A new wrinkle in BFA's game plan, opponents will have to prepare for Kelly. The Bobwhites have already dedicated more practice times to special teams.

"With his increased distance, it opens up some things for us," Murray said. "The ability to get three points on a drive that stalls, most years you have to punt it or go for it and face losing field position. We feel like with Robert we can take a shot."

Kelly credits his soccer background -- he played up until last year, most recently with a club team -- as the chief reason for his strong leg.

"It all starts with soccer. If I didn't play soccer, I wouldn't be a kicker," Kelly said.

As a sophomore in 2012, Kelly entered several pressure-packed situations. He hit a 42-yard field goal as time expired in the first half of a 21-3 win at Middlebury. And in the title-game loss to Hartford, Kelly made two attempts in three tries, the miss clanging the center bar from 43 yards out.

"That would have been nice to have, but can't make them all," said Kelly about the championship miss. "There's always room for improvement."

Kelly went to a kicking camp this summer in Massachusetts, where he fine-tuned his accuracy and improved his kicking power.

"He was pretty accurate last year, but the few technique things he's corrected over the summer has made him even more accurate, which is very important," Murray said. "It's great to have the distance, but it has to go through. And he's showing the ability to do that."

In the season-opener, Kelly remained locked in -- banking on his confidence to strike the ball and his teammates to do their jobs.

"I know what I'm capable of and I know that we probably have the best snapper in the state, we have the best holder in the state and we have a great line blocking for us," Kelly said. "I feel pretty confident every time I step up to the ball."

 

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