September 9, 2012 12:51:42 AM
The shoe isn't flashy.
One look at the worn black surface and it's easy to tell it isn't the latest model or named after a famous kicker.
The very thought of a kicker getting a shoe contract isn't as laughable as you would think, especially since the specialists decide so many games with their feet.
Greg Sykes didn't know how to react Friday night when he found himself in position to win a game for the Columbus High School football team.
All the junior could think about was erasing the memory of a missed extra point earlier in the fourth quarter that prevented Columbus from taking the lead against New Hope.
"I had a strong feeling I was going to make it," Sykes said. "(Quarterback and holder) Trace (Lee) told me we needed this game and I told him, 'I got it.' "
Sykes proved he is a man of his word as he made solid contact on a 24-yard field goal with 42 seconds remaining to lift Columbus to a 9-6 victory at Trojan Field.
The game-winning field goal was the first of Sykes' career, and his first attempt at a field goal in his three seasons as kicker with the team.
"I think that is good for me," Sykes said of his winning kick. "My mom (Monica) has always told me I am a very good athlete and that I can play as many sports as I want. To kick like that, I take that as a gift. Kicking means I know how to do many things, and I picked up kicking field goals the first time I tried it."
Sykes' effort came despite the fact he missed badly wide left on the extra point following Lee's 2-yard plunge that tied the game with 7 minutes, 35 seconds left in the game. But instead of getting down about the miss, Sykes regrouped and wanted to get another chance.
Columbus coach Tony Stanford was more than willing to give his No. 2 kicker a shot. Sykes, who has primarily handled the team's kickoffs, took the kick after Michael Sturdivant, who missed a field goal earlier in the game, continues to recover from an injury. Sturdivant missed a 41-yard field goal wide right with 2:15 to play in the first quarter.
"I feel sorry for (Michael), and I hope he gets well," Stanford said. "Right now, he is having some problems. There is an old saying, 'Somebody has to step up,' and Greg was the one who stepped up."
Lee also believed in his teammate. He said Sykes didn't say anything on the sideline after missing the extra point, but he could tell by his body language that Sykes wanted another chance.
"He was disappointed, but at the same time he knew he could make it, which is why coach had confidence in him the next time," Lee said. "That is why coach trusted him at the end of the game."
Trust is one thing, though. Execution is another. To make sure Sykes had a shot to win the game, Lee had to scoop a low snap from Jeremy Morgan. Lee said the snap was low because Sykes set the kicking tee down 2 or 3 yards farther back than the usual 7 yards. He admitted he was a little nervous the extra yards would affect the execution, but he trusted Sykes to get the job done.
"Jeremy did what he was supposed to do, and I saw the ball going down," Lee said of the snap. "We work on it a lot at practice, and I got my hands out and got it down on the tee so Greg could do his thing."
Lee said Sykes set the tee down a couple of yards farther back because he wanted a little extra time after having the extra-point attempt blocked. Those extra yards didn't matter when Lee heard the sound when Sykes hit the ball.
"I could tell the difference when he hit the field goal and when he went for the PAT. They were two different kicks," Lee said. "I could tell on the field goal he hit it square on. When he was kicking the PAT it was not as clean a hit."
To make the contact that rings true, Sykes knew he had to keep his head down and not think about the missed extra point. He said he focused on his steps and that he didn't realize Lee had to scoop the snap and use quick hands to get the football down on the tee. Sykes credited kicking coach David Nelson for working with him on a mind-set that allows him to shut everything out in a pressure situation and concentrate on his job.
Stanford said he didn't tell Sykes anything, but he has heard Nelson, who works with Columbus High's kickers a couple of days a week, tell the players to keep their heads down and kick through the ball.
"David has been coaching 150 years, I think," Stanford said. "He is a good man to help you out."
Sykes also has Nelson to thank for the shoe. The old size 10 1/2 is a little smaller than the size 11 Sykes said he has grown into. He said it still felt a little snug when he had to take the field for punt returns.
It felt just fine on the winning kick.
"My kicking coach told me to put it on when I was a sophomore when I started so I would kick better," Sykes said. "It probably was an old shoe. I didn't know where it came from."
After the game, Columbus coach Jim Hamilton said Sykes used the week of practice to get reacquainted with the shoe. The results proved memorable, even if the shoe isn't.
"Every day at school coach Stanford has been telling me to kick to get better," Sykes said. "He told me last season I needed to kick every day. Coach Nelson tried me at field goals the first day of practice, and I have been taking turns with Michael there since he got hurt. It has been great."
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.
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