Greg Peters column: The kicker elixir
Adversity is the cocoon of the butterfly called opportunity. Life has stages and rarely does it go as planned. River Falls High School senior football players Luke Nelson and Jared Syverson know this all too well.
"Why this year? Why now?" said Luke.
His right leg still wrapped in a cocoon of bandage and brace, Luke was referring to his recent season-ending knee surgery.
"We'd been undefeated since the Hudson game and the season was going so good and it just really sucked."
The Wildcats were minus not only a starting offensive lineman and one of their leading tacklers on defense, but Luke was also their only place kicker.
Every great team has great leaders and one of the Wildcat captains, senior safety/punt returner Adam Feyereisen, had an idea.
"After Luke went down, we needed a kicker," said Adam, "I was the new kicker but I knew we needed somebody better. I figured he'd be better than me."
Adam, the best three-sport athlete at RFHS this year, was the straw stirring the drink. The kicker elixir he was referring to was "retired" soccer player Jared Syverson. Jared's favorite sport was soccer. He loved it, but he had an elbow to the temple in ninth grade, a knee to the head in 10th grade, and a goalie fist to the forehead in 11th grade. Three concussions in three years. The doctor said he couldn't play anymore.
"All my soccer buddies, since we were young," said Jared, "was to go to state and win it and not being able to play my senior year, well, the reality of it, it just sucks to be done with something you love."
Jared stayed involved as the soccer team's manager this year but said, "I heard they needed a kicker from Adam and I knew I had a big leg from soccer. Those guys are my friends and I'll try it and see if I can help them out."
Jared texted wide receiver/punter Taylor Tirrel and said he was open to kicking if it was OK with Coach Crail.
"Coach Crail said to swing by and see what I got," said Jared, "so I swung by and kicked a few."
Jared had to be medically cleared and he was. He said Coach Crail said he'd be a "non-contact" kicker.
"I'm not supposed to tackle or anything, just kick," said Jared.
Jared Syverson had not kicked a football one time in his entire life before Oct. 11. He had a
whopping seven days of practice before his first game against Kaukauna this past Saturday.
Wrap your head around this for just a moment. Jared Syverson had been kicking a football for seven days and his first-ever game-action was in the first round of the WIAA state playoffs in front of the one of the biggest crowds Ramer Field has seen for a high school football game.
"I was so nervous going out there the first time," said Jared, "and I was over-thinking since it was my first kick."
There is a different sound when Jared kicks the football. It's an exploding sound, like something being shot out of a cannon. It's like a powerful thud.
"It's kind of like kicking a soccer ball in a way," said Jared, "so I don't think I'm starting over."
BOOM! With a 20 mph. wind in his face, Jared's first-ever extra-point try in a game sailed 40 yards past the goal posts but it was just wide to the left. No good.
Adam talked to his friend and prized recruit on the sidelines after the first miss.
"I told him I missed my first one last game and you just have to go out and kick the next one and make the best of the opportunity."
Jared had his second opportunity in the second quarter with the Wildcats up 12-6. He missed it again, wide to the left and didn't connect like he usually does.
Jared said after the second miss, Coach Crail told him exactly what he needed to hear, "He (Coach Crail) asked how I felt and I told him 'I'm pretty pissed off right now.' Coach smiled and just told me to take a deep breath and he knew I'd get it next time."
Coach Crail was correct. He knew he had a fighter and passed on his confidence to the senior kicker with seven days of experience. After a different "Jared," the one known as "Primetime" Creen, scored the electrifying 53-yard go-ahead touchdown with about 3 minutes left in the game, the Wildcats were up by three. Jared Syverson trotted on the field for his third extra-point attempt. He split the uprights right down the middle and the ball bounced all the way to the fence on the south end of the field.
"I was so proud for him," said Luke, "and I gave him a big hug. That's a huge confidence builder."
With the crowd still in a frenzy, Jared's ensuing kick-off, a crucial one for field position with just over three minutes on the clock, left his foot with a thunderous boom and sailed out of the end zone. There would be no return and no hope for the Galloping Ghosts from Kaukauna.
"I noticed the crowd was even louder after that kick-off than any other time," said Adam. "It definitely fired up our defense. We were super excited."
After a barrage of Chance Kamrowski sacks in the last series, the Wildcats took home the 25-21 victory.
"I don't want to have any regrets," said Jared, "at the end of the day, I want to know I did everything I could to help Adam and them (rest of the team) out."
Jared Syverson was coiled in his cocoon of adversity last year. His senior soccer buddies lost a
heartbreaker, 3-2, to New Richmond this past Saturday in their state play-off game. He knows what it's like to have played his last soccer game and he was there for his soccer teammates. No one in town better understood how they were feeling. Jared's gameday appearance now looks different. His blue and gold butterfly colors are draped in a helmet and shoulder pads covered by a #5 jersey, a symbolic reminder there's still a part of Luke on the field. Luke wears #55.
Luke's cocoon of adversity is exactly where Jared's was at this time a year ago. The time and pressure in his cocoon will be different, like it is for each of us, but I have a feeling his butterfly colors will be bright and beautiful next year in red and black while playing football for the UWRF Falcons.
For now, each has the unique opportunity to help one another. Jared may just receive his wish of winning a state championship, though the opportunity looks decidedly different than the one he envisioned with his soccer buddies. Luke will be coaching Jared in practice and giving all his teammates support on the sideline.
Luke said, "I'm going to be the biggest sideline cheerer on the team. I love those guys."
His butterfly wings are already spreading opportunities.