At many high schools around the country, it can be typical for coaches to shy away from attempting field goals from longer than 35 yards.
Not on the Central Coast — at least not this year.
Coming into tonight, five San Luis Obispo County kickers have made field goals of at least 35 yards, and four additional non-county kickers in the PAC 7 and Los Padres leagues have also eclipsed that mark through the season’s first three weeks.
Of course, towering above them all is Arroyo Grande High’s Garrett Owens.
Owens, a senior who has verbally committed to play at Air Force, made a 57-yarder at Templeton last week, breaking Billy Vinnedge’s nine-year-old school record by 3 yards.
Vinnedge found out about the record-breaker almost immediately after it happened via a text message.
“I couldn’t be more excited for him,” said Vinnedge, who has been working with Owens for the past few years. “I said to him a couple weeks ago, ‘Don’t wait until the end of the year. If you’re going to break it, break it early.’ ”
Owens’ 57-yarder is believed to be the longest in the nation so far this season. According to this year’s National Federation of State High School Associations official record book, the all-time national high school record is 68 yards, set by Dirk Borgognone of Reno, Nev., in 1985. Erik Affholter of Oak Park owns the official state record, with a 64-yarder in 1982.
Arroyo Grande’s coaching staff had plenty of faith in Owens’ chances to make last week’s kick, which has since gained nearly 9,000 views on YouTube after being featured on a Yahoo! blog.
In the 45-17 win, Owens also caught 10 passes for 126 yards and a touchdown.
“What made it so much more spectacular in my mind,” Eagles coach Tom Goossen said, “is he’s a kid who played the whole game. He played some defense and was very active on offense. He was out there running around the whole time; it’s not like he was resting on the sideline.
“He’s a football player who happens to kick, not a kicker who plays football.”
An ESPN RISE All-America second-team selection among juniors last year, Owens made a 52-yard field goal in the 2010 CIF-Southern Section Western Division championship game at Serra in Gardena.
The week prior to the Templeton game, Owens sent a 49-yarder through the uprights with nearly 15 yards to spare. All but one of Owens’ 15 kickoffs this season have gone for touchbacks.
“I have confidence that, if we needed him to, he could kick a 60-yard field goal,” Goossen said. “He has that ability.”
Owens, however, certainly isn’t the only local kicker off to a good start.
“Garrett has gotten a lot of publicity, and everybody knows about him,” Vinnedge said, “but there’s a ton of good kickers out there right now.”
San Luis Obispo senior Tanner Kahn, who’s rated as a four-star college prospect by former UCLA kicker Chris Sailer, already has a 42-yarder to his name this season.
Both Nipomo junior Taylor Apetz and Paso Robles senior Garrett Schasteen have connected on 39-yard attempts, and Templeton senior Cameron Silzer has made a 37-yarder.
Santa Ynez senior Marcos Uribe (whose season long is from 41 yards), Cabrillo junior Stephan Dalton (39), Lompoc junior Jose Morales (36) and Pioneer Valley senior Francisco Alcantar (a game-winning 37-yarder as time expired) have also all shown the ability to be weapons if a drive stalls.
Apetz, Dalton, Kahn, Morales and Uribe have all spent time learning from Vinnedge, who earned a scholarship from Wyoming in 2006 and then spent time during the preseason with the NFL’s San Diego Chargers in 2008. He recently started the Billy Vinnedge Kicking Academy with the express purpose of helping Central Coast players.
“It’s all about being rated these days,” Vinnedge said. “Pretty much, the whole reason I started this thing was I wanted to create a powerhouse of kickers here on the Central Coast.
“I think in the next few years, the Central Coast is really going to take off with kicking.”
Vinnedge is also partnering his efforts with former Tampa Bay Buccaneers kicker Michael Husted, who founded National Camp Series, a San Diego-based clinic.
With so many former Division I and pro players like Vinnedge, Sailer and Husted passing down what they’ve learned through such specialized programs, Goossen also said kicking should only get better in years to come thanks to the growth of such offseason regimens.
“These kids realize there’s potential for them to go on and do something with this,” he said.