Raider senior gives team a leg up

GREENFORD-With a balanced and prolific offense, the South Range football team has rarely needed either a field goal kicker or a punter during much of its undefeated 2013 season.

Come playoff time, however, quality defenses are found in greater abundance, making special teams play all the more crucial. If his offense bogs down Friday night against Cuyahoga Heights, Raider coach Dan Yeagley can call on someone who has already made a pressure-packed postseason kick this fall.

Senior kicker-punter Tyler Rothbauer has been shuttling back-and-forth between the soccer pitch and the football field for the past three months. Friday, he will help the Raiders begin their playoff run just over a week after making a 45-yard penalty kick in the soccer team’s 2-1 regional semifinal loss to Doylestown Chippewa.

“It’s been a great fall,” Rothbauer said. “To be able to make history with the soccer team by winning our first ever district title and then to spend Friday nights contributing what I can to this football team has been an unbelievable experience.”

Rothbauer-who was also the starting third baseman for the baseball team last spring-is in his first season of varsity football after lettering all four years of his high school career as a right defenseman on the Raider soccer team,

He has brought a strong and accurate leg to complement the explosive Raider offense, hitting all three of his field goal attempts as well as making extra points at clip of over 90 percent.

“Before this year I hadn’t played any football since junior high where I was a 5-1 backup quarterback,” Rothbauer laughed. Once high school came, I saw how much bigger everybody else was and decided to go with soccer. I never ended up hitting a growth spurt until my junior year.”

Last December, though, Rothbauer decided that he wanted to experience being a part of the football team for his senior season. He approached Yeagley and asked if he could kick. Yeagley was looking for a kicker to replace the graduating Cole Krumpak-now on the football team at Walsh University-and told Rothbauer he would hold an open tryout for the position in June.

“We have a great football tradition at South Range and I wanted to be a part of it,” Rothbauer said. “A lot of my friends were on the team and I thought it would be a fun experience.”

Rothbauer began practicing for his summer tryout in April, working with former South Range-and Walsh University-kicker J.C. Willison. Kickoffs and field goals were an easy transition, punting was not.

“Because of the shape of the ball, you have to do everything different in punting a football than you do in soccer,” Rothbauer said. “How you step and how you position your body are both completely different. I had to work on that more than anything.”

The work paid off and Rothbauer performed very well when the tryout came around. One day later, Yeagley informed him he had won the job.

As fate would have it, Rothbauer’s first ever varsity play turned out to be a punt-the part of the game toughest for him to master.

“I don’t think I’ve ever been so nervous in my life,” Rothbauer said. “I went out there against Warren JFK in the first quarter and just hit a terrible punt. Fortunately I was able to get it corrected and it’s been better throughout the year.”

Although he was mainly looking for field goal accuracy, Yeagley was also pleased to discover that Rothbauer was a very good directional kicker, a skill that will come in handy against a dangerous Cuyahoga Heights kickoff unit of Jack Alpert and Tyler Gallo.

“I remember the first game of the season against Warren JFK,” Yeagley said. “We wanted to kick away from Carl and Chad Zallow, both good returners. Tyler was able to spray the ball around to other guys, and when they moved up closer he had the strength to kick it over their heads. Most of his kickoffs have been either touchbacks or down to the five yard-line.”

Beacuse most Raider drives have resulted in touchdowns, Rothbauer-who has made kicks of up to 50 yards in practice-hasn’t had much opportunity to showcase that leg strength on field goal attempts, instead saving it for the soccer field.

“As a defenseman, Tyler’s leg helped us out a lot,” South Range boys soccer coach Alan Styer said. “Obviously there was that penalty kick in the tournament game, but he is also very good at getting the ball out of our side of the field.”

As for that fateful penalty kick, Rothbauer said that he and some teammates just so happened to be working on free kicks exactly like the kind he would attempt the night before.

“It’s funny how that worked out,” Rothbauer said. “I had a kick like that my sophomore year, but never anything that big in a playoff game. As a defenseman I didn’t get the chance to score many goals so that was really nice.”

All season long, Rothbauer has been practicing with the soccer team exclusively Monday through Wednesday and practicing with both teams on Thursday. With his soccer career now behind him, Rothbauer now has the chance to concentrate fully on football.

“To go right from the playoffs in one sport and a week later being able to experience the same thing in another is incredible,” Rothbauer said. “There is nothing like Friday nights on a football field. This is something that when I get older I can look back and tell my grandkids about. It really has been an honor.”