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For Schmell, It’s Been a Real Kick

Woodstock Senior Puts His Best Foot Forward in Final Year

  • Hartford's Josh Claflin, playing for the South, dodges defenders from the rival North and goes for a big run early in the Vermont North-South Senior Bowl at Castleton State College. Claflin had a touchdown run in the fourth quarter as the South rallied for a 39-36 victory.<br/>(Jeffrey Porter photograph)

    Hartford's Josh Claflin, playing for the South, dodges defenders from the rival North and goes for a big run early in the Vermont North-South Senior Bowl at Castleton State College. Claflin had a touchdown run in the fourth quarter as the South rallied for a 39-36 victory.
    (Jeffrey Porter photograph) Purchase photo reprints »

  • With the South trailing in the third quarter of the North-South All-Star Game, Windsor High School quarterback Luke Tancreti scrambles in the backfield to avoid a costly sack. The South rallied in the fourth quarter to pull out a 39-36 victory, evening the 12-year-old All-Star series at 6-games apiece.<br/>(Jeffrey Porter photograph)

    With the South trailing in the third quarter of the North-South All-Star Game, Windsor High School quarterback Luke Tancreti scrambles in the backfield to avoid a costly sack. The South rallied in the fourth quarter to pull out a 39-36 victory, evening the 12-year-old All-Star series at 6-games apiece.
    (Jeffrey Porter photograph) Purchase photo reprints »

  • Hartford's Josh Clafin breaks free of a tackle from the North's Griffin Comerci to score a fourth quarter touchdown.<br/>(Jeffrey Porter photograph)

    Hartford's Josh Clafin breaks free of a tackle from the North's Griffin Comerci to score a fourth quarter touchdown.
    (Jeffrey Porter photograph) Purchase photo reprints »

  • Hartford's Josh Claflin, playing for the South, dodges defenders from the rival North and goes for a big run early in the Vermont North-South Senior Bowl at Castleton State College. Claflin had a touchdown run in the fourth quarter as the South rallied for a 39-36 victory.<br/>(Jeffrey Porter photograph)
  • With the South trailing in the third quarter of the North-South All-Star Game, Windsor High School quarterback Luke Tancreti scrambles in the backfield to avoid a costly sack. The South rallied in the fourth quarter to pull out a 39-36 victory, evening the 12-year-old All-Star series at 6-games apiece.<br/>(Jeffrey Porter photograph)
  • Hartford's Josh Clafin breaks free of a tackle from the North's Griffin Comerci to score a fourth quarter touchdown.<br/>(Jeffrey Porter photograph)

Castleton, Vt. — Thanks to Hunter Schmell, placekicking has attracted a cult of sorts at Woodstock Union High School.

After struggling with accuracy and distance during his first two years on the Wasps’ football team, Schmell spent the last two seasons showing up early for practice to boot a bag of balls for half an hour.

The initiative caught on, so much that this year he was joined by several teammates aspiring to take over for the senior next season.

“I’d come out and do it on Sundays, too, when no one else was there,” said Schmell after kicking for the South in yesterday’s 39-36, come-from-behind win over the North in the Vermont North-South Senior Bowl all-star game. “I’d just dump out a bag of balls, kick about 10 of them as far as I could, then go chase them and round them up and do it again. It was all about getting better. It’s become a passion.”

After never consistently kicking in youth league, Schmell admitted to struggling off the tee as a freshman, when he was a backup. The issues lingered even into the following season, when he was issued fulltime kicking duties as a sophomore.

“I just didn’t really know what I was doing,” Schmell said. “I think I missed every field goal and missed some PATs. I hadn’t really found out where I liked to kick the ball. It was definitely a learning season.”

Schmell’s natural leg strength became evident last year, when kickoffs began sailing inside the 20. The goal soon became to pin opponents inside the 15, and then inside the 10 as his skills developed.

Schmell eventually found his sweet spot by tilting the ball to the right and twisting it counterclockwise on the tee. His mechanics down pat, Schmell’s towering kicks became a huge field-position boost as Woodstock won back-to-back D-III crowns.

“It’s really the hang time that allowed us to (pin opponents deep),” said Schmell. “If I get the ball high in the air, I’m confident the coverage team is going to be down there so fast, getting almost where the ball was when it came down. That’s huge when you can do that.”

Schmell’s punts has borne similar fruit -- though he only booted 12 of them this year for a Wasps team that went 11-0 -- and kicking for points has been kosher.

Schmell’s 66 PATs equaled more total points than all but eight Upper Valley players, and his five field goals, combined with three rushing touchdowns, helped him finish sixth among area scoring leaders.

Schmell’s longest field goal came from 42 yards, while a 51-yard attempt on homecoming day against North Country skimmed off the cross bar.

“Hunter’s a guy who’s going to do whatever you ask him to do and work hard at it,” said retiring Woodstock coach Jim McLaughlin, a spectator at yesterday’s game. “I think he always knew he could kick, but he didn’t know it was going to be as big of a deal as it turned out.

“A lot of kids come into high school thinking kicking is just something that comes between offense and defense. Then they realize how much an important part of the sport it is. Once the light bulb went on for Hunter, it became something that he took a lot of pride in. Now he’s got a group of guys who join him before practice who want to be kickers, too.”

Schmell has developed visualization and and relaxation techniques to stay focused, including imagining a shortened field or picturing no defense. Doubling as the Wasps’ quarterback, he used the adrenaline that kicks in while leading drives down the field to help get revved up for kicking responsibilities.

“When you lead a drive and score, it’s easier to stay focused (for the PAT and subsequent kickoff) because you just scored a touchdown, you’re settled into the game and you’re ready to go,” he said.

“The mental focus part is something that I still struggle with, because it’s hard. You have to forget stuff quickly as a kicker. If you miss a kick, you can’t dwell on it and say, ‘Oh no, the game’s over now that I missed a kick,’ because you have to be ready the next time they call your number.”

With Burr & Burton thrower Jake Stalcup and Windsor’s Luke TanCreti rotating at quarterback yesterday, Schmell kicked exclusively and had a tough day. He missed field goals of 39 and 33 yards, had two PATs blocked and had a bad snap sail over his head and into the end zone on a punt attempt. He alertly booted it behind the end line for a North safety rather than potentially giving up a touchdown.

“The first (miss), I pulled it on purpose thinking the wind was going to play with it a little more than it did,” he said. “The second one, I just didn’t hit it right. Sure, it was different snapper and holder (than with Woodstock), but I still should have been able to hit them.”

Schmell also had positive moments, drilling three PATs while consistently backing the North inside the 20 and sending one third-quarter punt to the 11-yard line.

A standout lacrosse attackman, Schmell said he’d love to kick in college, especially if he could play both sports. With McLaughlin helping him gather and distribute video clips, he said the University of New Hampshire and NCAA Division III Stevenson University, in Maryland, have shown interest.

“I could probably kick and play lacrosse at Stevenson, so that would be great,” said Schmell. “But I’d also love to kick at a Division I school, even if it was as a backup. I’m confident that I can do that because it’s a real passion for me now.”

———

South 39, North 36

Stalcup threw for 308 yards and four touchdowns as the South came back to win the shootout.

Stalcup found Fair Haven wideout Dakota Euber with one minute, 25 seconds left, and the South’s defense held on.

The South grabbed an early lead as Ed Doton scored on a three-yard rush with 10:09 to play in the first quarter. Scmell’s extra point making it 7-6.

The game went back-and-forth from there, with neither team building a two-score lead until the North went ahead 36-20 in the fourth quarter.

The South marched back, scoring once before TanCreti hooked up with Otter Valley’s James Winslow for a 37-yard pass play to set up a 10-yard scoring run from Hartford’s Josh Claflin. Schmell’s PAT was blocked to keep it 36-32 North, but Stalcup found Euber for the winning score on the next drive.

Hartford’s Taylor Potter led the South’s defense with seven tackles.

The South drew even in the 12-year-old series, 6-6.

Hartford’s Joe Wood, Jon Carlson, Mike Dulac, Nolan Frechette and Donovan Kelly; Woodstock’s Will Emmons, Travis Gault and Jalen Peterson and Oxbow’s Justin Rasnic and Tyler Davidson also saw game action for team South.

Jared Pendak can be reached at jpendak@vnews.com or 603-727-3306.