COLUMBIA — The Battle High School football team's freshman kicker Kahleb Adams likes to hit, and he quit playing soccer so he could do more of it.
Adams prefers playing wide receiver or cornerback, which he does for Battle's junior varsity team, but it was his leg that earned him a spot as a starter on the Spartans' varsity squad.
Gateway High School (1-3) at Battle High School (3-1)
When: 1 p.m.
Where: Battle High School
Adams has the leg power to make kicks from 40 yards out, but lately he's been using finesse to anchor Battle's squib kickoff strategy. The strategy has paid off, allowing the Spartans to effectively cover the kickoff and Adams to get physical on the field.
Though Adams has a background in soccer and had kicked previously at Oakland Junior High School, he wanted to be known for more than just his foot. During football tryouts, he auditioned at wide receiver and cornerback.
"I really didn't wanna kick. I knew I could kick from Oakland ... and I thought I'd just be the (junior varsity) kicker," Adams said.
Adams assumed that he would kick in addition to playing receiver and corner for the junior varsity squad. But during an early preseason practice, the varsity coaches asked if there was anyone else on the team who could kick. He asked his defensive coach if he could go kick and they said yes.
And kick he did.
The team's coaches watched as Adams made kick after kick from 40 yards out. That performance earned him the starting job on Battle's varsity team.
But that starting role came as a surprise to Adams. No one told him that he'd made the varsity squad — he only found out when he went to pick up his junior varsity uniform and the coaches handed him a second jersey with a different number on it.
Even though his leg strength earned him the varsity nod, Adams has been relying more on technique and finesse in his kicking game as of late. During Battle's only loss of the season to Hannibal, coach Justin Conyers saw some holes in the team's kick coverage and decided that squib kicks would address those deficiencies.
The squib kick is a low, line-drive of a kickoff, one that often bounces unpredictably into the second line of the receiving team. Squib kicks force returners to make a split-second judgment call in order to field an awkwardly-bouncing and fast-moving ball.
In last week's game against Carnahan High School, the Spartans used squib kicks with success, causing several turnovers and otherwise stiffing Carnahan's returns. Adams said the Spartans will continue the strategy in Saturday's game against Gateway High School.
In addition to complicating opponents' kickoff returns, Adams said the squib kick has provided him with two additional opportunities: the chance to confuse return teams with random deep kicks and use his physicality.
Adams said that he and the kick coverage unit pay special attention to how opposing return teams line up and adjust their plans accordingly. When teams line up to field the squib, Adams communicates with Conyers, who sometimes allows him to kick deep and pin them down well into their own half of the field.
But when the deep kick isn't an option, Adams revels in the opportunity to hit kick returners when they field squib kicks.
"Well, since they (the return team) aren't (always) expecting it ... when I'm approaching the ball, they're turning back," Adams said. "And right when they turn back around they see me, and I'm ready to hit them. And that's pretty fun for me."
"At the beginning, I didn't really like the squib because it kinda got old," Adams said. "After that last Friday game, whenever that ball was bouncing high over (the returners' heads) and we were getting those big hits and those turnovers that changed the game big time, that's when I started liking it," he said.
Adams, an unconventional kicker, has come to embrace the Spartans' unconventional kickoff strategy, a strategy they're likely to continue with as long as it's effective.
Supervising editor is Greg Bowers