Kickers, punters, snappers showcase their wares

In their world, stopwatches are used to clock hang times instead of 40-yard dashes.

Without pads and helmets, many of them could be mistaken for soccer players rather than football prospects.

But with 275 high school kickers, 75 punters and 150 long snappers participating, last weekend’s annual Chris Sailer National Kicking and Snapping Event at UNLV showed that even special teams has become immersed in college football recruiting.

It’s an exclusive and competitive fraternity of special teamers who are slapped with stars and a ranking for Web sites, just like their offensive and defensive counterparts.

“We’re getting close to a hundred scholarships a year for these kids,” said Sailer, a former Arena Football League kicker who founded the event. “In the past, it had been, ‘You can come walk on and get a scholarship by playing.’ ”

Locals who competed included Green Valley junior kicker Nolan Kohorst and senior punter Jordan Miller, Palo Verde sophomore kicker Garrett Dunlap, Bishop Gorman sophomore kicker Colin Ditsworth and Tonopah junior kicker Denver Otteson.

Miller arguably was the standout of the bunch, finishing among the top eight punters after booming a 70-yard punt with a 5.2-second hang time.

He has been invited to walk on at Brigham Young, and Kohorst already has an offer from UNLV.

“I think it definitely can go up,” Kohorst said of what the camp can do to recruiting interest. “I don’t want to just confine myself to UNLV. I want to have more options out there.”

More than 12 hours of field instruction and demonstrations were given to prospects Saturday. Their teachers were a handful of retired NFL and Arena Football League specialists and 15-plus current players from major college programs.

What was the top lesson?

“Kick up,” Otteson said. “Keep your eyes back and kick up, not out or anything else.”

The chance to teach kids the science of special teams was rewarding for UCLA long snapper Christian Yount, who parlayed his No. 1 ranking at the camp two years ago into a Pac-10 scholarship.

“It’s good to see the (college) coaches putting more importance on it, and kids can kind of find their niche in special teams,” Yount said.

The fraternity often is friendly but can be fiercely competitive because of how few spots are available.

That was on display during a demonstration for parents and prospects where college kickers engaged in a “last man standing” field-goal contest akin to a game of H-O-R-S-E in basketball.

“If you watch before games, we’re always out at midfield talking to each other,” Yount said of special teams units. “But once it’s on the field or an event like this, it’s all competition.”

Since its “experimental” beginnings in 2002, the camp has grown to where players from every state and Canada, France and Australia attend, Sailer said.

“When we recommend somebody, we believe they’re going to do a great job,” Sailer said. “And they have, and because of that, word has spread. We feel we’re tops in the country right now as far as being able to evaluate and recommend kickers, punters and long snappers.”

The results support Sailer’s claim. His camp has produced players such as: Dallas Cowboys kicker Nick Folk, a 2007 Pro Bowler; Arizona State kicker Thomas Weber, winner of the 2007 Lou Groza Award; and UCLA punter Aaron Perez, a current NFL Draft prospect.

“It was cool to see pros come out and demonstrate for us,” Miller said. “It was fun to see where we could go and the opportunities that are ahead of us.”