2:00 a.m. October 1, 2009
EL CAJON — Granite Hills High senior Tyler Strickland doesn’t claim to be perfect, but in several areas he’s pretty darn close.
His bid to maintain the highest standards began in kindergarten.
“I’ve had perfect attendance all the way through high school,” Strickland said. “I’m proud of that. I’m taking AP and honors now and have done reasonably well with a non-weighted grade point average of 3.5.”
When it comes to kicking, precision is essential for Strickland and the Eagles football team. With the help of long snapper Joe Cardona and holder Dylan Rubio, Strickland is 13-for-13 on points after touchdown this season and has made one of two field-goal attempts, connecting from 37 yards.
Granite Hills coach Randy DeWitt said Strickland routinely kicks 55- to 57-yarders in practice.
“In a game, I wouldn’t be afraid to give Tyler a shot from 45 yards — maybe even longer, depending on the situation,” DeWitt said. “He focuses on his craft seven days a week, whether we’re in season or not.”
Although Granite Hills has not been a scoring machine in the past couple of years, the 6-foot-3, 170-pound Strickland has made the best of his kicking opportunities. He’s missed one of 36 points after touchdown during that span.
Strickland is quick to credit Rubio and Cardona, who is ranked 14th nationally as a long snapper based on his performance in a Las Vegas combine last summer. “Cardona is a perfect snapper who gets the ball back to Rubio in seven-tenths of a second,” Strickland said. “I’ve been told that’s major college time. NFL snappers get the ball to the holder in 0.6 to 0.65 seconds. I feel fortunate that Joe is so good at what he does. And Rubio — heck, he’s a wide receiver. You know he’s got good hands.”
Cardona, a linebacker and offensive lineman, is headed for the Naval Academy.
“It’s exciting to think that colleges now give scholarships to long snappers,” Cardona said. “There is a lot of technique involved. It’s more body than just arms, and legs play a big part. But I love working with those two guys. Tyler has a huge leg.”
“The three of us work at this a lot, and we’ve never had a kick blocked,” Rubio said. “Occasionally we’ll get a high snap, but I’ve always been able to put the ball down and spin the laces facing outward. And no, Tyler has never kicked me in the hand.”
Strickland loves to contribute to the scoring, but that’s not his favorite part of the game.
“I like kicking off because that’s when I’m allowed to kick the ball as hard as I can,” said Strickland, who played defense for the Granite Hills soccer team for the past two seasons.
DeWitt, whose Eagles (2-1) host El Centro Central at 7 p.m. tomorrow, is pleased with that part of Strickland’s game. His kickoffs usually reach the end zone, resulting in a touchback. The coach figures about 90 percent of Strickland’s kickoffs are not returned.
“Having a kid like Tyler who can kick the ball that far is like an added weapon,” DeWitt said. “It takes a lot of pressure off our defense in terms of field position.”
Strickland handles all the kicking chores for the Eagles, including punting. Much of his practice time is actually not spent punting the ball.
“It’s all about the drop,” Strickland said. “In practice I’ll stand on the line facing the bleachers and make sure that I throw the ball straight up and let it hit the line. If you drop it to the left or to the right, you’re probably going to shank the punt.”
Arizona State, Nevada and Nevada Las Vegas have expressed interest in Strickland.
“Tyler has an uncanny ability to power the ball,” Eagles kicking coach John Matich said. “He can put the ball in the end zone and has long-range field-goal abilities, which makes him a Division I prospect for sure.”