December 7, 2018 9:47:12 AM
WEST POINT -- Grayson Easterling already had a nickname prior to his last prep football game.
"Kicker" needs no other explanation to describe what Easterling did for the Oak Hill Academy football team. The senior performed his role so well this season that he earned an invitation to the Mississippi Association of Independent Schools (MAIS) Senior All-Star game last week at Jackson Prep. This year was the first year the MAIS broke the event into two games -- one with Eight-Man, Class A, and AA players and the other with Class AAA and AAAA players.
Easterling made the most of his final appearance by kicking two field goals, including a All-Star game record 56-yarder in his team's 20-14 victory.
The kicks cemented Easterling's new nickname of "Leg," or, to go one better, "Leg of Thor."
"I had a pretty good week of practice," Easterling said. "In warmups, I didn't miss a field goal going that direction (with the wind and off artificial turf). At halftime, I lined up for a 55-yarder (with the wind in the same direction) and smoked it pretty good."
Easterling said his team used an interception to re-gain possession in the second half. It moved the ball to the 35-yard line before a sack moved the ball back to the 41.
Easterling said he never had attempted a 56-yarder in a game. He said the adrenaline was pumping and that he wasn't thinking about anything other than driving the football.
"My snapper was from Tunica. He was one of my good friends, Bailey Melton," said Easterling, who wore No. 81. "The holder was from Sylva-Bay Academy. He was Tanner Cotton. They are pretty good at what they did."
Easterling said Cotton caught the football and then turned it so the laces are facing toward the goal posts. He said he saw the snap, started his approach, and hit the football. He said he thought he struck it well and that it had a chance to clear the goal posts.
Oak Hill Academy coach Chris Craven, who was at the game, said the kick cleared the bar on the goal posts by at least 2 yards.
"It's a fantastic way to end your high school career," said Craven, who was standing at the end of the field Easterling was kicking to. "I am very proud of him and the self-discipline he had to work and work and work, whether it was up or down and not get discouraged."
Craven praised Thomas Easterling, Grayson's father, for working with him to help him grow as a kicker. He said he was so impressed with Thomas Easterling's work with his son that he asked him to be a part of the coaching staff.
Craven said he remembers Grayson Easterling saying in middle school that his goal was to kick in college. Through the years, Craven said Easterling has honed his craft and developed the leg strength to be nearly automatic in being able to kick the ball into the end zone on kickoffs. He said Easterling also was a weapon as a punter when the Raiders needed to play the battle of field position.
On Friday, though, the only question was whether the "countless hours of practice" and the work on flexibility were going to help Easterling get a record. Earlier in the game, Easterling kicked a 34-yard field goal.
Easterling said he heard a sound -- a nice, deep thump -- when his foot contacted football. He said a kicker wants to strike the football with the knuckle on their foot underneath the laces on the cleat. He said the key is to lock your ankle out and bring your leg through as fast as possible.
"I felt it hit on the sweet spot," Easterling said. "It was pretty perfect kick for me."
Easterling said he didn't know the kick was a record until a few plays later. He the kick was a "special" way to end his prep career. Easterling called the game "one of the highlights" of a career he hopes will help him earn a chance to kick in college.
Easterling said the exposure he gained playing in the All-Star game helped him raise his profile to college coaches. He said the performance was a fitting ending to his season, especially after missing a few field goals early in the season.
"At the beginning of the season, we had a new snapper and a new holder," Easterling said. "That's always tough. We had a few people quit holding and snapping, so we were just trying to find some consistency. I had mono at the beginning of the season. That also didn't help, but we worked out our kinks and built up some jell and some confidence."
In the regular-season finale, Easterling hit a 50-yard field goal to help Oak Hill Academy beat Marshall Academy 24-18. That kick set the stage for an even bigger one in front of an even bigger crowd.
Easterling said he talked to a few college coaches at practice prior to the All-Star game. He said he also has texted several coaches, so he hopes someone will give him an opportunity to use the "Leg of Thor" at the next level.
"I sure hope (kicking the 56-yarder in the All-Star game) helps," Easterling said. "Hopefully, it will be an eye-opener, but you have to trust the process, be humble, keep working, and keep your grades up, and do your best."
Follow Dispatch sports editor Adam Minichino on Twitter @ctsportseditor
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.
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