By Ian Ferguson
Anyone who attended Blaine high school football home games last season is used to hearing Kyle Sentkowski’s name over the loudspeaker. The sophomore kicker is the team’s go-to guy for field goals, kickoffs, punts and point-after attempts.
Sentkowski was recently ranked as the fifth best kicker in the country for the class of 2017. Chris Sailer Kicking, a nationally respected kicking and punting instructional program, determined the ranking based on season performance and an in-person evaluation. Sentkowski attended a regional development program for USA Football in Westlake Village, CA in February, and based on his performance was invited to attend a national development game this summer.
The 6-foot sophomore is in the midst of soccer season right now, playing the sport that started it all for him.
“I’ve been playing soccer since kindergarten. One day my dad took me to the football field to kick field goals and it ended up clicking for me,” Sentkowski said.
While playing soccer probably helped his leg muscles develop, Sentkowski said kicking a soccer ball is a different motion than kicking a football.
“In soccer, you want to get over the ball and it’s a more natural leg swing. In football, you want a more vertical leg motion and you want to lean back a little bit to get under the ball,” he said.
Building the muscle memory for a consistent kick takes a lot of practice. In the spring, Sentkowski is focused on playing soccer, but he still makes time to kick footballs every week. Over the summer, he’ll step up his practice regimen.
“In the summer I practice five times a week on any field I can get,” he said.
His routine is well versed. He starts with a warm-up jog and a stretch, and then begins a kicking progression. He starts with no-steppers; as the name implies, it means kicking the ball without stepping into the kick. All the power for the kick has to come from the leg swing with no prior momentum. Next he does one-steppers, then a full step.
“The progression helps build a stronger kick and makes you focus on the technique,” Sentkowski said.
All that practice comes in handy during games, when most kicks and punts are performed in a high-pressure situation. Sentkowski has done a good job performing under pressure, scoring 35 points over the 2014 season in field goals and PATs.
When asked if he had a strategy for dealing with high-pressure kicks, Sentkowski said, “Not really. With a helmet on you can’t hear a lot of the crowd noise and it’s pretty easy to focus on the kick. With enough repetition in practice you build up muscle memory so that every kick is consistent.”
Practice is key, but Sentkowski has something else going for him. Kicking runs in the family.
Gene Sentkowski, Kyle’s father, was a kicker at Bellingham High School, played in college and even played semi-pro football for Washington teams the Snohomish/King County Blue Knights, the Puget Sound Jets and the Bellingham Eagles. Kyle’s older brother Keith was also a varsity kicker for Blaine.
“I always thought he had a leg on him from the time he was playing youth soccer,” Gene said of Kyle. “He’s already doing better than I ever did.”
For field goals, Kyle is pretty accurate from 45 yards and in, and 50 yards on a good day, Gene said. He’s also getting used to kicking from the ground rather than off the 1-inch tee used in high school games.
“When kicking off the ground the sweet spot is lower, so you have to change your motion,” Kyle said.
Kyle said the camp in California was a good learning experience and he’s looking forward to the USA Football development camp at Claremont McKenna College in California this July. For more information on the camp and to help get him there, go to gofundme.com/ksentkowski.
For the long term, Kyle wants to play as a varsity kicker in college. Meanwhile, you can expect to hear his name over the Blaine loudspeakers for the next two years.