Pierce Royster had a tough decision to make for a high school sophomore.
He and his best friends had talked about winning a state title in soccer for Hudson long before they ever stepped through the high school doors. They had played soccer together since kindergarten, through elementary and middle school and were still together. Royster, one of the team’s best players as a defender with a very strong leg, was best friends with longtime goalie Charlie Sockol. Together they were the backbone of a group that was supposed to propel the Explorers to Ohio’s best soccer team one day.
But after his sophomore year, an opportunity arose and a fork in the road surprised him. Royster had been playing and loving football in addition to soccer since the third grade. Two years into his high school career, something clicked on the football field. He went to Kohl’s Kicking Camp, among others, and wowed the scouts and coaches on his way to being named one of the top 100 kickers nationally and top few in Ohio by several online scouting websites.
“I had always been a good ball striker in soccer, and then I went to a couple camps and figured out I was pretty good at it,” Royster said. “Everything technique-wise came around for me. Kicking a football is a very specific game. You not only have to have proper technique, you have to have perfect technique. It was about finding the sweet spot and how to position your foot. It all came together there.”
Then the letters came pouring in.
Local Division I schools such as Kent State, Ohio University and Toledo were giving him notice. Out-of-state programs such as Florida Atlantic came calling. He’s even received interest from Mississippi State and a possible opportunity to kick in the Southeastern Conference, college football’s best.
But in the background was Sockol and the soccer team and the dream they’d hatched long ago.
Royster had been given a key to a door that remains locked and bolted for a vast majority of high school athletes, a chance at a football scholarship. It had been locked for him, too, until the Kohl’s Camp.
He had a chance to kick on college football’s biggest stage and receive an education. But to do it, he had to give up soccer. And what was much harder, he had to leave behind the guys on the team. This was ripping the Band-Aid off, very slowly.
“It was such a tough decision once I figured out I could play football in college because I had been with both teams for so long,” Royster said. “It was like a family with both and I had to let one go. When I told them [the soccer team], it was rough because it was kind of like letting my family down.”
Royster had been doing a lot for this two families at Hudson. In middle school, he’d go to football practice and then go straight to soccer practice. As a freshman, Royster didn’t play football, but the kicking job was open the next year. As a sophomore, he went to soccer practice first before going to the field house at Hudson and kicking ball after ball through the uprights until nearly sunset.
He’s made good use of his time. Last season, his junior year, Royster made 10-of-13 field-goal attempts with a long of 47 yards and was 46-of-48 on extra points. He also forced a touchback on 25 of his roughly 50 kickoffs.
“The key to high school kicking is getting touchbacks,” he said. “The more of those you get, the more notice you get. They want a stronger leg because you can teach accuracy.”
Having Royster’s right leg as a weapon in high school football certainly is a luxury.
“Any time you have a kid that caliber as a kicker, it means we’re capable of scoring points at any point,” Hudson coach Ron Wright said. “It also gives us a great advantage defensively. Now we’re kicking the ball in the end zone every time. In high school, they’re never returning that. So most of those drives, they’ll have to go 80 yards.”
Wright says it’s been awhile since he had a kicker comparable to Royster. There aren’t many kickers today comparable to him, either, because he doesn’t look like most kickers. He looks like he should be the Explorers’ starting fullback or strong safety. He’s not terribly tall, but he’s more than active in the weight room, far from the stereotypical kickers who flail at opposing punt or kick returners when they break through the first and second lines of defense.
“I go to these kicking camps and other guys come up to me and ask if I play running back or DB,” Royster said. “I think it’s funny. They come up to me and are like, ‘No way.’ I love seeing their reactions. It’s just the stereotype that kickers are small, scrawny guys no one pays attention to.”
Royster will continue to be asked if he’s really a kicker, and he’ll continue to garner scholarship offers. He says he wants to play in a warmer climate and that his standing offer from Mississippi State is “looking pretty good right now.”
But the one thing he hasn’t done in his football career is kick the game winner, or even get the chance to line it up and put one through the uprights.
“I love that pressure and I hope I get the chance,” he said. “It’s make or break with a game-winning kick. The whole school is either going to love you for the week or you might want to take a couple of classes off. It comes with the position so you have to face it.”
Royster wants to have his number called on for his family, his football family, his school family. He already was forced to leave one behind, and it left a scar. It’s the last time he plans on not taking the kick.
Ryan Lewis can be reached at email@example.com. Read the high school blog at http://www.ohio.com/preps. Follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/RyanLewisABJ and on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/sports.abj.