Kicking footballs straight and far came naturally for Matt Abramo, who picked up the sport after persistent knee pain forced him to the sidelines in soccer.
The thrill of catching passes drew Jedi Tavares to football, and years of playing youth soccer transferred well to the kicking game.
The North Bay League rivals — Abramo at Casa Grande and Tavares at Windsor — lead a small but skilled set of true kickers in the Empire this season. They can help win football games with consistent points after touchdowns and the occasional field goal.
Others teams turn to soccer standouts, developing enough confidence and coolness in players to score points for their squads.
"I was so used to kicking a soccer ball that kicking a football was easy. I've just tried to get better working on form and technique," said Abramo, who began kicking in middle school youth football and now leads Empire prep kickers in scoring. "It felt good from the start. I liked scoring points for the team."
Not far behind is Tavares. The first to take up football in a soccer-playing family, his kicks have helped Windsor pull out close wins.
"I wanted to try something new," Tavares said. "I love kicking. I was still able to do that in football."
Kicking is a much appreciated element in a football team's success. Gaining points after touchdowns is paramount, field goals a bonus. Equally important are deep kickoffs, bolstering defenses by pinning opponents deep in their half of the field.
Finding a player with both skills and presence under pressure when all eyes are on your foot is challenging at the high school level.
"How important is a good kicking game, on a scale of 1-10, it's an 11," said Lower Lake coach Justin Gaddy.
Lower Lake coaches have worked with three kickers since early summer. Soccer player Mauricio Jauregui handles conversions and field goals, staying with it despite being tackled on his first attempt in a game.
"You just need kids with the right attitude," Gaddy said. "They have to be coachable and need to deal with pressure."
Already kicking at a high level as juniors, Abramo and Tavares might finish among the Empire's all-time best.
Both have a strong work ethic. Given another year at the craft, each could play at the college level.
Of the pair, Abramo is the more polished. Already ranked among California's top prep kickers, Abramo has worked with private coaches the past several years. He increased the training with a dozen showcase and college camps this past winter and summer.
"Matt is always practicing. He kicks on his own all the time," Herzog said. "It's very hard to develop a kicker with the ability ours has."
From the fourth grade Abramo was determined to be the Casa Grande placekicker. His foundation was seven years of youth soccer.
Abramo gave up soccer due to a painful knee condition. Osgood-Schlatter disease is associated with growth spurts and aggravated by sports demanding running, jumping and quick lateral movement.