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An amateur placekicker attempts to kick a field goal.

Placekicker, or simply kicker (PK or K), is the title of the player in American and Canadian football who is responsible for the kicking duties of field goals, extra points, and, in many cases, kickoffs.

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Specialized role of kicker (vs punter)

The kicker initially was not a specialized role. Until the 1960s, the kicker was almost always doubled at another position on the roster, George Blanda being the best example. As the era of "two-way" players gave way to increased specialization, teams would employ a specialist at punter and kicker. Because of the difference in techniques needed, and to reduce the risk of injury, on the professional level most teams employ separate players to handle the jobs. The placekicker usually will only punt when the punter is injured, and vice versa. (One player often handles both jobs in the Canadian Football League, which has smaller active rosters than in the NFL.) A professional team will even have a kicker who handles only the kickoffs and serves as a backup to the kicker who handles field goals and extra points, typically to further protect a premier kicker from injury or if their premier kicker, while accurate, does not have the leg strength to kick the long kicks required for kickoffs.

Amateur teams (e.g., college or high school) often do not differentiate between placekickers and punters, have different players assume different placekicking duties (for example, one person handles kicking off, another kicks long field goals, and another kicks from shorter distances), or have regular position players handle kicking duties. The last option is quite common on high school teams, when the best athletes are often the best kickers. Before the modern era of pro football, this was also the case for professional teams, particularly when most place kicks were still made in the "straight on" style outlined below.

Salary and team standing

Placekickers and punters are often the lowest paid starters on professional teams, although proven placekickers sometimes earn over a million dollars per year in salary.

In addition, kickers are at times ostracized by other players due to the perceived non-physical and limited nature of their duties, as well as the fact they often are allowed to leave practice before the rest of the team. It is not uncommon for a placekicker to be one of the smallest members of their team. The presence of foreign born-and-raised players in the highest levels of gridiron football has largely been limited to placekickers—occasionally even coming from outside the traditional American high school and/or college football systems—thereby increasing the perception of the placekicker as an outsider even though the placekicker is put into an extreme pressure situation every time he touches the field.

Nevertheless, due to their duties in kicking both field goals and extra points placekickers are usually responsible for scoring more points than any other player on a team. The top 25 players in NFL history in career scoring are all placekickers.[1]

Robbie Gould, #9 of the Chicago Bears, is the NFL's highest paid kicker.

Kicking style

Jeff Reed warms up on the sidelines of an NFL game

Placekickers today are almost all "soccer-style" kickers, approaching the ball from several steps to the left of it [for a right-footed kicker] and several steps behind and striking the ball with the instep of the foot. Before this method of kicking was popularized in the 1960s by Pete Gogolak and his younger brother Charlie (the first placekicker to be drafted in the first round), every place kicker was a "straight on" kicker, a style that requires the use of a special shoe that is extremely rigid and has a flattened toe. [1] In the straight on style (also known as "straight-toe" style), the kicker approaches the ball from directly behind, rather than from the side, and strikes the ball with the toe. Straight on kickers are relatively uncommon in college football (due to the control and power disadvantages, along with soccer becoming more popular), but a very small percentage of high school football players still kick straight-toe. The last full-time straight on placekicker in the NFL was Mark Moseley who retired from the Cleveland Browns after the 1986 season; Dirk Borgognone, who set records with the straight toe in high school, tried but failed to make several NFL teams in the early 1990s.

Shoes

Placekickers in the modern game usually wear specialized shoes(soccer shoes), but in very rare circumstances some prefer to kick barefoot. Tony Franklin was one such kicker, who played in Super Bowls for the Philadelphia Eagles and New England Patriots. Another was Rich Karlis, who once shared the record for longest field goal in Super Bowl history (kicking a 47-yard field goal in Super Bowl XXI) and for the most field goals in a game (seven for Minnesota in 1989, tying Jim Bakken's record of the time), a record since broken by Rob Bironas. More recently, Englishman Rob Hart kicked barefoot during his 7-year NFL Europe career. John Baker also used the style in the 1990s in the Canadian Football League, as did José Cortéz in the XFL.

Barefoot kickers are banned in the vast majority of high school games, due to a rule by the National Federation of State High School Associations, which requires all players to wear shoes. Massachusetts and Texas play by NCAA rules, and therefore barefoot kickers are legal in those two states.

Kicking stance

Mostly all soccer-style kickers share a similar approach to the ball: knees bent, leaning forward at the waist, taking three steps, and then proceeding to kick the ball. Examples of unusual approaches include Paul Edinger, who stood backwards, and spun around 180 degrees to kick the ball, and Donald Igwebuike, a Nigerian kicker (Tampa Bay Buccaneers, 1985-1989) who took a step backwards before approaching the ball.

References

  1. ^ "NFL Scoring Leaders". pro-football-reference.com. http://www.pro-football-reference.com/leaders/scoring_career.htm. Retrieved 2008-12-17.  
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