Game of the Week: The Panthers' big boot
Published on -10/24/2012, 11:26 AM
By CONOR NICHOLL
Every time Phillipsburg High School senior kicker Justin Juenemann converts a field goal, extra point, boots a touchback or receives a look from a NCAA Division I school, his success can be traced through a long line of people who have helped him.
Juenemann, one of Kansas' top specialists and a rare small-school kicker, kicked five field goals in 2011. This year, he is 6 of 8 on field goals and is first in Kansas in field goals, according to maxpreps.com. He also ranks first in kick scoring (59 points), fifth in extra points (41 of 44) and first by a big margin in kickoff yards (3,003).
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He holds the school record with a 47-yard field goal, according to coach J.B. Covington. Juenemann nearly made a 49-yarder versus Oberlin-Decatur Community earlier this year, but hit the crossbar.
"I can't thank my coaches and my teammates and my family enough for supporting me throughout all these years," Juenemann said. "I really appreciate coaches giving me the opportunity to kick during games. It takes a lot of guts, especially since Phillipsburg has never really had a kicker in a long time."
Juenemann's leg has helped Phillipsburg open 7-1, 1-1 in Class 3A, District 14. The Panthers play host to rival Norton (6-2, 1-1) on Thursday. The winner advances to the postseason.
"We are very excited for this game," Juenemann said.
Phillipsburg has faced the ninth-hardest schedule in Class 3A, but has outscored opponents 323-71, according to preppowerindex.com. In addition to Juenemann, the Panthers also feature senior quarterback Sean Newlan and junior Riley Juenemann, Justin's brother and holder.
Newlan -- who missed nearly a month because of an ankle injury suffered in Week 2 against Oberlin-Decatur Community -- and Riley Juenemann have combined to complete 29 of 43 passes for 847 yards with a 9/0 TD/INT ratio. Among teams that have thrown for at least 600 yards, the Panthers have the state's highest quarterback rating at 150.
"All around, we have got a great team this year," Justin Juenemann said. "We know that we are capable of playing well each week. (Riley) told me before the game when Sean got hurt against Oberlin, he told me that he mentally prepared himself if this situation were to come up. I thought he did a great job stepping in."
For Justin Juenemann, he stepped into a role as a freshman that few players have in western Kansas. Many team's kickers also play another position, but Juenemann, who was 5-foot-9, 126 pounds when he entered high school, wanted to solely focus on kicking. During the summer entering his freshman year, Juenemann and his dad started to work on the basics and fundamentals.
"Dad originally talked to me and asked if I wanted to kick since Phillipsburg has never really had a kicker for a long time," Juenemann said. "He thought it would be kind of cool, obviously going to have to work extremely hard at it. He kept telling me, 'If you don't want to kick then you don't have to. I am not making you. If you want to do it, then you go ahead and do it.' I wanted to do it."
Juenemann created a drill from an insulation tube that fits around a pipe. He worked on standing in one spot and kicking the tube with the correct part of his foot. Virtually every night, he took around 30 kicks. It helped develop his positioning and footwork.
"It can be very frustrating, times when you don't feel like you are doing anything right, but then the next day, you might have everything going right," Juenemann said of kicking soccer style. "You just got to keep working through. It's a long process, but I feel like I have really hung in there."
As a sophomore, Juenemann kicked his first field goal, a 27-yarder against Ellis. He had a solid season, but collected second team all-MCL honors behind Norton's Caleb Laughlin. Juenemann said Laughlin deserved the honor and was happy to get second team, but the award spurred him on. Last year, Juenemann collected first team all-league.
"That was a goal for me next year was to be first team all-league," he said. "I thought I worked really hard in the offseason to get there, and when I found out I got it this year, I felt that my hard work paid off."
In the offseason before this fall, Juenemann worked hard in the weight room, gained approximately 10 pounds and now stands 6-feet, 162 pounds. He attended multiple camps, including at Kansas State, Kansas, Illinois and Colorado.
"He has just been a real student of learning how to kick correctly," Covington said. "To be honest, he wasn't very big and he has worked hard in the weight room, gotten stronger and improved his kickoff technique. Now, he is well-rounded, he can kick off, he can kick field goals consistently. We feel like any time we get inside the 35-yard line, we have got a shot at a field goal."
At each camp, he picked up tips, including getting stronger to improve his ball-striking, hitting lower on the ball and keeping his head down. Multiple colleges, including Kansas State, have looked at Juenemann. He hasn't made a choice, but could be Covington's first Division I player in his 10 years with the Panthers.
"Feel lucky to have colleges even to look at me and talk to me," Juenemann said.
Juenemann has a strong group of specialists, too. Senior Tad Thompson, one of the area's top safeties, is in his third year as long snapper.
"As a sophomore, I wasn't going to get much playing time, but our previous long snapper graduated, so I was like, 'If I want to at least get onto the field somehow, I am going to long snap,' " Thompson said. "I started working at first not thinking much of it, and then I found out that I was pretty good at it. I was really interested in it."
Riley Juenemann is the holder. Thompson is the Juenemann's first cousin. The family connection works together seamlessly, another link in Juenemann's successful career.
"They all do a great job, and I really appreciate it," he said.