Buried deep in its own territory on fourth-and-long, South Albany High lined up in field goal formation during Friday’s opener against Mountain View.
Collecting three points wasn’t the objective.
With many confused faces scattered throughout the bleachers, kicker Ozzie Ramirez sent the ball out of bounds down the left sideline for a net of 30 yards. South had just used high school football’s scrimmage kick rule to its advantage.
“The only thing I was thinking about was what the crowd’s reaction would be,” Ramirez said. “They were probably like ‘what are these guys doing?' It’s definitely something new and something I am still getting used to and will adapt to soon.”
According to Rule 6, Section 2 of the National Federation of High School Associations rule book, all scrimmage kicks (punts, drop kicks and place kicks) are treated the same.
The receiving team is allowed to return all scrimmage kicks except for point-after touchdowns. A kick that goes out of bounds in the field of play is placed at the spot it crossed the line.
“Unlike the NFL where if you kick a field goal from the 20 it comes back to where you kicked it from, in high school a field goal is no different from a punt,” said Randy Westbrook, who has been a referee for 32 years. “Teams will do a place kick and try to get the ball further down the field.”
South deployed the strategy five times in the 28-7 loss with an average kick of about 38 yards, South head coach David Younger said. The longest boot went for 45 yards.
“Some of our fans probably didn’t understand what we were doing at first,” Younger said. “We got to thinking that one of our best weapons is Ozzie’s leg, so why not line up in field goal to punt? Rather than teach Ozzie how to drop kick a punt, we believe this is our best strategy going forward.”
The idea came from special team coordinator Rob Younger, who led the Sweet Home program for 22 seasons before stepping away in 2009. Rob is David’s father.
As recently as the late 2000s, Sherwood had deployed the strategy under longtime coach Greg Lawrence.
“Greg is a really good friend of mine, so I called him up and we just talked about it,” the elder Younger said. “It turned out that we had a very similar situation to what he did. Our punter (Kyle Miller) was hurt for a little bit and we have a great kicker, the strength of our special teams is our kicker, so we just thought we’d take advantage.
“As good as Ozzie is, why not use him and use that leg of his? So that’s where we are coming from.”
Ramirez, who also plays soccer for South, joined the football team midway through his freshman season. He found immediate success on the gridiron, earning second-team all-Mid-Willamette Conference honors in 2015.
As a sophomore last fall, Ramirez received first-team honors and kicked three field goals as the Rebels stunned Lebanon 16-14 late in the season. The Warriors went on to capture the 5A state title.
Ramirez’s mix of accuracy and power makes him a perfect candidate for Lawrence’s strategy.
“To do this, your kicker has to be very accurate,” Rob Younger said. “And that’s what Ozzie is. Ozzie not only has a very strong leg, but he’s very accurate with where he can put the ball. What we’re going to do is directional kick with him, similar to what college and professional teams do with their punters.”
Kicking on fourth down does have some drawbacks.
Instead of snapping directly to the punter, place kicking involves a holder, which adds another step where something could go awry. Field goal formations are also much tighter than a typical punt alignment, resulting in a different coverage scheme.
“It’s changed the angle for our fliers,” David Younger said. “They are now more of an outside contain type of defender whereas our tight ends become our gunners, along with the snapper. So it mostly just changes the angles of our fliers a little bit. Instead of attacking the football, they are more about outside contain.”
The Rebels practiced the new strategy just twice before their opener.
Both Youngers believe the team will be more comfortable running it Friday night against Crater.
“I thought the kids did an excellent job,” Rob Younger said. “We will get better with the lane assignments and our coverage. What we really want to do is either kick the ball out of bounds so they can’t run it or pin them to the sideline where we don’t have to cover the entire field.”