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Published: Saturday, 6/29/2013

KICKER

Kicking camp zeros in on special-teams aspects of game

BY RACHEL LENZI
BLADE SPORTS WRITER
Ottawa Hills' kicker Michael Geiger, right, used kicking camps to help him to be ranked the No. 1 kicking prospect. He will play at Michigan State. Ottawa Hills' kicker Michael Geiger, right, used kicking camps to help him to be ranked the No. 1 kicking prospect. He will play at Michigan State.
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When Brandon Kornblue began working at football camps, he noticed that a specific coach would point out things he had overlooked in one-on-one training sessions with high school and college kickers.

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Or he noticed the small number of coaches who took the time to work with kickers, which he believed created a lack of emphasis on detail in one of football’s specialized positions.

As a teacher, a coach, and former kicker at the University of Michigan, Kornblue realized what he was passionate about — helping high school and college students and focusing the quality of kicking — and began his first kicking camp in 2007.

“As I saw the evolution of camps and the opportunities there, there was a need for it, with so many kickers and punters being neglected, the way it is today,” said Kornblue, a 1999 Michigan graduate who lives in Naples, Fla. “I’d seen some other camps through the years. Guys did things I liked and I didn’t like. After I started a business, it exploded pretty fast.”

What he considered an avocation quickly evolved into a business. Kornblue Kicking is one of a handful of camps in the country that specifically instructs kickers, punters, and long snappers, and camps for specialized positions have become a cottage industry in college football. And, in a sense, they’ve become a marketing medium.

Recruiting analysts consider Kornblue Kicking, Burbank, Calif.-based Chris Sailer Kicking, and Kohl’s Professional Camps of Waukesha, Wis., among the top special-teams camps in the country, and costs of camps can vary from $70 for a small-group session with Kornblue Kicking to $4,000 for a 12-month training program through Kohl’s.

Allen Trieu, a recruiting analyst for Scout.com, said the camps have become instrumental in the recruiting process.

“Kicking is a hard position to evaluate,” Trieu said. “It’s hard to try to get kickers on campus to work them out. It’s not like other positions where at a camp, you have 60 quarterbacks work out for a staff. The kicking camps have become a middle man in a lot of ways.

“Kickers got picked up very, very late in the [recruiting] process, after their senior season. Now, there’s more of an opportunity for in-person evaluation and exposure and kickers are making commitments earlier. Camps have become a catalyst for that.”

As a long snapper at Michigan from 1997 to 2002, Jeremy Miller didn’t have the tutelage 15 years ago that a special-teams player may have now. Nor did his teammate, Kornblue. He remembers when the idea of starting a kicking camp came to Kornblue — during the 2007 Ohio State-Michigan game at Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor.

“He said to me, ‘I’m thinking about doing this full time,’ ” said Miller, a Toledo resident who works with Kornblue’s camps in the summer. “For him, it’s something that doesn’t feel like work. He really enjoys seeing these athletes live up to their potential.”

During the off-season, Kornblue hosts kicking camps in Arizona, Texas, Ohio, Georgia, and his native Florida, and works as a consultant to college programs and college kickers. Among Kornblue’s pupils are Notre Dame junior kicker Kyle Brindza and incoming Michigan long snapper Scott Sypniewski, who is considered one of the nation’s top high schoolers at his position. Kornblue also trained Michigan kicker Brendan Gibbons when he was a high school student in West Palm Beach, Fla.

Michael Geiger, an Ottawa Hills graduate who will kick at Michigan State, said attending high-level kicking camps through the course of his four years at Ottawa Hills provided avenues for him to pursue playing college football.

Trained as a soccer player, Geiger first attended a kicking camp in Ann Arbor run by Kornblue. Kornblue’s instruction, Geiger explained, gave him a base in kicking. At Sailer’s kicking camps, Geiger received more exposure.

Sailer, a former UCLA kicker, hosts several different camps, including the National Kicking and Snapping Event, and Geiger won the field-goal kicking competition at the 2012 Las Vegas event, which hosted more than 400 specialists from across North America. That helped Geiger’s recruiting ranking soar, as both Rivals.com and 247Sports.com rated Geiger the No. 1 kicker in the country for the Class of 2013.

“Being from Ottawa Hills, there’s not that much attention unless you’re shattering records,” said Geiger, a Division VI Associated Press All-Ohio selection who made 38 of 40 extra-point kicks, went 6 of 10 on field goal tries, and averaged 41.7 yards per punt this season. “For me, despite having pretty good statistics in high school and getting some recognition, the majority of my college and recruiting was from going to these camps and performing in front of [coaches and scouts].”

On his Web site, Sailer includes a page where he asks the rhetorical question: “Which camps should I begin, and when?” — and the seven-year schedule begins in the seventh grade, when a prospective football player should attend a camp as a spectator and start private lessons, and continues into college.

Geiger didn’t start attending kicking camps until the summer before he started high school, at a time when even he admitted, “I didn’t know what I was doing.

“I was actually pretty bad at my first Kornblue camp but I said, ‘Hey, I might have potential.’ ”

Kornblue estimates only five FBS schools have full-time kicking coaches — Michigan, Bowling Green State, Ohio State, and Toledo have special teams coordinators, but do not list a specific kicking coach on each staff. He believes specialized instruction for specialized positions is critical in the development of positions that sometimes can be neglected.

“The need comes in because the culture of college football and football in general. Even though people preach about the importance of special teams, they don’t put the money into hiring specific kicking coaches for each team,” Kornblue said. “That presents an opportunity for me to come in and help fill that need.

“At that level, [specialists] aren’t working with basic fundamentals. They’re refining the small things that need to be tweaked.”

Contact Rachel Lenzi at: rlenzi@theblade.com, 419-724-6510, or on Twitter @RLenziBlade.



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