Daily photo by John Godbey|
Decatur High kicker Michael Schuster spent his summer at football camps. He's been a sure thing for the Red Raiders this season. Ben Neill is his holder under the guidance of head coach Jere Adcock.
Getting a leg up
Schuster a superlative
for Decatur's kicking game
By Brooke Milam
email@example.com · 340-2460
At the end of each season, Decatur High coach Jere Adcock and his staff meet to discuss the next year.
Adcock said the first question is always the same, and it's not who the quarterback will be or who will be the star receiver. It's not even who will be the bell cow on defense.
Instead, Adcock and his coaches want an answer to this: "Where do we stand in the kicking game?"
"The first thing we look for is kickers and snappers," Adcock said. "We stress being perfect in the kicking game because that's one aspect of the game you can be perfect in. We put a huge priority on it."
Fortunately for the Red Raiders, when Adcock and his assistants checked out the roster at the end of last season, the kicking game wasn't cause for major concern.
Place-kicker Michael Schuster, long-snapper Levi Cook and holder Riley Adcock were set to return. With the kicking game steady, Decatur already has seen an immense turnaround this season.
After posting a 4-6 record last season, Decatur is 2-1 this year with the two wins coming over Class 5A, Region 8 foes Hartselle and J.O. Johnson.
In three games, Schuster's kickoffs have produced eight touchbacks. He's punted 15 times with a 41.5 average with a long of 57. He has placed five inside the 20-yard line with three fair catches, and when return yardage is subtracted, Schuster's net punting is 41.0 yards.
It's difficult to return Schuster's punts, as Adcock noted that they "have great height and hang time."
Schuster is perfect on extra point attempts, making 11 of 11 this year. He's also connected on field goals of 40 and 29 yards.
"I knew my job was going to be important this year," Schuster said.
Schuster, a senior, spent his summer touring the country at various kicking camps, trying to improve his kicking game in hopes of improving Decatur's results.
It was a productive summer.
Not only did Schuster win the Top Performance Award among 140 kickers at a national combine in Wisconsin, but he also landed first place in kickoffs and second in punting.
Schuster also won the kickoff competition at the Ray Guy camp in Hoover, topping kickers from Alabama, Georgia and Mississippi.
"This is more than I did last year," Schuster said.
"This summer, my vacation was camps."
Schuster is the latest in a long line of solid kickers for the Red Raiders.
Adcock said that beginning in 1994, Tim Hicks was the first of a string of Decatur kickers who helped raise the bar high. Punter Matt Dawson (1996) was named all-state, followed by Chip Walters, who was honorable mention all-state in 1997 and eventually was the starting kicker at Samford.
In 1999, Josh Hicks was honorable mention all-state. Josh Woodard was selected all-state in 2000-2001. Most recently, Steven Leach (2004) was an all-state punter and Jesse Perrin (2005) was honorable mention all-state.
"Those are some guys who really jump off the page at you when you look at their numbers," Adcock said.
Paired with Austin standouts Morgan Hull (2007), a walk-on at Auburn this year, and Kevin Shannon (1997), an all-state kicker who went on to kick for Jacksonville State, the city has a strong tradition for outstanding kickers.
Even with an impressive contingent in the past, Adcock said that with Schuster, "the overall aspect of kicking is much better than we've had."
"Michael's really been a plus for us," Adcock said.
Adcock takes the bulk of the responsibility in working with the kickers, while assistant coach Steve Netherton is the kicking-game coordinator.
"The kicking game is the thing you have to coach up more than anything," Adcock said.
Adcock's belief in Schuster's importance continues to prove itself.
In addition to his extra points and field goals, the Red Raiders have routinely won the field position battle with the help of his kickoffs and punts.
"Putting us back inside the 20 or 30 helps with field position, and I work a lot on that," Schuster said.
That's something Schuster has done a pretty good job of this season.
"One thing that Michael has given us right now is we're kicking them off seven to eight yards deeper," Adcock said.
Although he is focused on his senior season, Schuster has been offered a spot to play for North Alabama. He is familiar with the Florence area.
Schuster travels to Florence most Saturdays to work with kicking coach Mike King, who works with Auburn and Alabama kickers. King also has worked with Mike McCabe, a former All-American punter for Illinois State.
Decatur already is thinking ahead about who will be Schuster replacement next season, and Schuster, who knows the importance of the job, has helped out.
Every day he and sophomore Enrique Salcido, who Adcock said Schuster "recruited" himself from the halls of Decatur High, practice their trade together on the field at Ogle Stadium. They work separate from the rest of the team, which works out 50 yards away on the Red Raiders' practice field.
But for now, Decatur will continue to enjoy the distinct advantage Schuster offers.
"We entered this season knowing he was going to be there, and it's offered us an advantage," Adcock said. "When you've got that, you can be competitive in most all of your games."
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