COLUMBIA – It appeared to hang in the air.
The crowd started to buzz as if it might go through. End over end, deep into the night, Wesley Leftwich’s kickoff seemed to fly through the air for minutes or hours as opposed to mere seconds. When it finally came down, the crowd cheered as loud as it had all night. His teammates raised their hands to mimic a referee’s signal for a good field goal. Leftwich just smiled.
Hickman (4-2) at Gateway Tech (4-2)
Time: 7 p.m.
Location: St. Louis
Radio: KTGR/1580 AM
Rock Bridge (3-3) at No. 5 Francis Howell
Time: 7 p.m.
Location: St. Charles
Radio: KFRU/1400 AM
He had booted the ball through the uprights that stood 70 yards away. He would do it three times that night against Hazelwood West.
“I can’t recall seeing that before,” said special teams coach Chad Masters, who is in his 11th year of coaching. “In essence he kicked three 70-yard field goals in that game.”
For those who follow the Hickman football team and Kewpies senior Wesley Leftwich, his abilities on special teams have become something of an afterthought.
But they shouldn't.
Entering the season ranked as the state’s No. 12 best overall recruit by ESPN, Leftwich, who has verbally committed to MU, has turned heads with a powerful leg as often as he has with his blazing speed at wide receiver.
“It’s always fun to do something you don’t see all the time.” Leftwich said of that night.
Beyond being fun to watch, Lefwitch’s kickoffs have pinned opponents deep in their own territory to start drives. In 24 kickoffs, he has recorded 14 touchbacks, a huge contribution to a Hickman defense that has allowed less than 15 points per game.
“When we make a team drive 80 yards every time, I like our chances,” Hickman head coach Jason Wright said. “A lot of teams would like to have him back there.”
While most of his accolades have come for his prowess at wide receiver, Leftwich has been kicking balls longer than he has been catching them. He didn’t start playing football until eighth grade, when his athleticism on the basketball court and soccer field caught the eye of some of his friends and their parents.
“They told me I had to come try out,” Leftwich said. “I boomed the ball, and I’ve been kicking ever since.”
His special teams play has offset the fact that Leftwich has averaged only 2.5 catches a game and reached the end zone just three times. The 6-foot-2, 205-pounder said he prefers touchdowns to touchbacks, but is willing to contribute to the Kewpies any way he can.
“There’s something about having the ball in your hand,” Leftwich said. “Sometimes I get frustrated if it’s not there.”
The lack of receptions for Leftwich falls on him and the coaching staff. His speed is undeniable (he ran a 4.31 40-yard dash at the Chicago Nike Combine in March), but he has struggled at times both to get open and hang on to the football.
“We have to do a better job of game planning, and he has to stay focused.” Wright said. “When he catches the rock, he does good things.”
Leftwich has shown explosiveness at times. He turned a simple screen pass into a 48-yard touchdown against Hazelwood West and scored a huge 29-yard touchdown in the Kewpies' hard-fought road win against Hannibal. But his biggest impact in 2010 might just be booting the ball time after time.
“He’s blessed with the ability to have a lot of skills,” Masters said. “He likes to play and he doesn’t like to be off the field.”