JUNEAU - In terms of glamour and prestige, football's kickers and punters are the ones who normally stand in obscurity while the star running back scores or a linebacker makes a devastating tackle.
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While a perfectly placed pooch punt rarely makes the highlight reel, though, sound special-teams' play can be a potent weapon in terms of field position.
For the Juneau-Douglas Crimson Bears, the senior kicker/punter Dominic Smith has proven to be just as important as any lineman, quarterback or running back this season.
"Without a doubt, Dominic Smith is one of the most valuable people on the team, if not the most valuable person," JDHS coach Bill Chalmers said. "Field position has been fantastic this year. You take a great kicker and a great defense and put them together, it's really tough to play against."
A proficient kicker or punter is considered a luxury for most high school football teams. Besides, most young football players dream about becoming an NFL superstar like Ray Lewis instead of a reliable punter like Ray Guy.
Smith, however, has played an instrumental role in Juneau-Douglas' undefeated season.
In Saturday's 31-14 victory over South, Smith twice pinned South Anchorage inside its own 5-yard line three times in the third quarter.
"It was like he was in the zone," JDHS offensive coordinator Rich Sjoroos said. "I don't know how you get in the zone punting, but he was there. He was sticking them like you see in the NFL."
After his third punt put the Wolverines on their own 3, Juneau-Douglas scored on two plays later when defensive tackle Faifo Levale recovered a South fumble in the end zone.
"Some of that is skill, but mostly luck," Smith said. "I was trying to get it in that area and luckily it just took that sideways bounce and went out on the 3."
Smith also connected on all four point-after-touchdown attempts and a 20-yard field goal Saturday. Juneau's kickoff team also held South to an average starting field position of its own 22.
Smith, a standout striker on the Crimson Bears' soccer team, joined the football team midway though last season. He proved his mettle immediately, kicking a 25-yard field goal to beat Wasilla 16-13 in his first game.
Since then, the senior honed his craft to become a first-team All-Railbelt conference kicker.
"It helps us a lot," Smith said of field position. "It gives us some momentum going, especially."
Couple Smith's punts and kickoffs with a defense allowing 40.6 yards rushing per game, Juneau-Douglas forces offense to work extra hard to score.
The kicking game also benefits Juneau's offense. If JDHS can force a quick three-and-out deep in the opponent's territory, quarterback Ryan Larson and company only have to travel 40 or 50 yards rather than 70 or 80 to the endzone.
"It gives you more options to do on offense," he said. "We can run certain plays from that position."
Juneau-Douglas' coaching staff makes sure special teams get their due by running them hard in practice. Rather than just walking through formations or motions, players go full tilt and attack every drill.
To win 10 games in a row, every part of the Crimson Bears' machine must be in perfect working order. If Juneau-Douglas hopes to extend the winning streak to 11 and win a state title, it'll need the special teams to keep giving the offense and defense opportunities to put teams away.
Who knows, maybe one day ESPN will devote part of its highlights to the art of punting.
"We run our special teams like offense and defense and run it live, whistle to whistle," Sjoroos said. "It's a pretty valuable weapon."
Contact sports editor Tim NIchols at 523-2228 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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