Because of wind gusts, James Borkowski Jr., left, holds the ball so that Liam Rodrigue can kick off during a game at Oak Hill High School in Wales last fall. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

Summer workouts for high school football kickers have come a long way since Oak Hill coach Stacen Doucette used to practice kicking barefoot and recruit his little brother to be a holder.

Many teams don’t have a player whose main focus puts the “foot” in football, but for the most dedicated kickers, the summer means a chance to work on the finer points of the craft of kicking.

Doucette, himself a kicker while playing for Lisbon, said he has been “spoiled” during his time as the head coach at Oak Hill.

He inherited Adam Merrill, described by Doucette as a “kicking rat,” who would take video of himself kicking from various extreme angles as well as practice kicks off his parents’ garage, breaking windows and lights past sunset.

Now the Raiders can rely on Liam Rodrigue, a soccer player growing up who caught the eyes of the Oak Hill football program when he was in middle school. Doucette said Rodrigue has spent the most “technical time of any kicker” he’s ever coached, going to kicking camps, using video to critique his kicking and then correcting it.

Rodrigue said in the past he’s attended Kicking World camps, but this summer he tried out a National Kicking Service camp.

The soon-to-be senior said the camps helped with “mostly placement, follow through and taking the right steps.”

Edward Little kicker Misha Boulet — who was adopted from Ukraine, where he grew up playing soccer — went to a Kicking World camp in Massachusetts this summer, as well as the University of New Hampshire football camp.

“The thing that helped me a lot, it’s where the foot which I’m landing on before the kick should be putting. That helped me a lot,” Boulet said. “Also, the timing, the stance and all the stuff. Because I used to kick the way I know, and now I just know where to kick, how to kick and when to kick, you know all the timing and stuff. Now it’s coming easier.”

Boulet’s football career unofficially started with a for-the-heck-of-it 45-yard field goal, which he nailed, while attending a football practice, at which Boulet was just a spectator before being encouraged to try a kick. A shorter try — “It was like perfect height and right in the middle,” according to Boulet — inspired Boulet’s uncle to push him to attempt the 45-yarder.

Seeing how much his new brother, recent Edward Little lineman Dawson Tracey, loves football motivated Boulet to switch away from soccer, and now he says he loves the game, too.

He worked on all aspects of the game at the UNH camp, including field-goal work for the kicking portion. After hitting a long of 53 yards at the Kicking World camp, he made three straight from 50 yards at UNH. He now will bring his newly-honed skills back to Edward Little this fall.

Other teams are bringing in soccer players — either former or current — to aid their kicking games. Winthrop/Monmouth/Hall-Dale coach Dave St. Hilaire said the Ramblers will have a soccer player join the team this year, something he cited schools such as Brunswick doing in the past. Leavitt coach Mike Hathaway said a former soccer player is going to try and kick for his team this year. The Hornets usually have former Leavitt girls soccer coach Chris Cifelli work with the kickers in the preseason.

Oxford Hills kicker Janek Luksza watches a kick on its way through the uprights after a hold by Noah Oufiero during a game against Bangor in Paris last fall. Brewster Burns photo

Many kickers are on their own for workouts out of season, or have to put in the extra work after preseason practice, like former Mountain Valley kicker Kyle Farrar did, according to departed head coach Patrick Mooney.

“But after he graduated, we always went for two because I didn’t feel like we had any consistent kicking game,” Mooney said.

Graduated Oxford Hills kicker Janek Luksza (another one-time soccer player) said he didn’t do much kicking last summer — he wasn’t sure he was going to be the Vikings’ kicker after taking a year off — but he “lifted a lot, did lots of balance and leg workouts, which I think helped a lot.”

Luksza said he taught himself how to the kick a football after switching over from soccer, but he learned how to kick under pressure during Vikings practices during his high school career.

Doucette said Merrill was “money” under pressure, and that Rodrigue is getting to that point. Doucette knows how important special teams are, particularly kickers.

“What I tell my kickers is, we encourage them in practice, and I always give them a tee and ball and say, ‘Get some kicking in. You can be as good as you want to be,'” Doucette said. “I don’t say, ‘You need to go to kicking camp.’ I don’t say that stuff.

“I think (Liam) took it upon himself because he enjoyed it, it’s fun. I was a kicker in high school, I found it fun. I tell them the stories (of things) that I did to get better, and some of them run with it and they take it to the next level.”

Rodrigue and Boulet have done just that by attending various specialty camps in the New England area. But they are still an outlier for a state that sees many teams just go for two points after touchdowns.

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