From kicking a soccer ball to a football

-A A +A
By Tommie Kendall

Three steps back. Two steps over. Go for it.

That's all Matt Doane thinks about before a Friday night kick - all he wants to think about. In the blink of an eye, the football is snapped by Clint Nutter, placed on the ground by Travis McClanahan and booted into the air by Doane, who more than likely will send the ball sailing between the crossbars. The three-step routine is all Doane has time to think about, which suits him just fine.

So far this season, the first-year player, who also happens to be a senior, has made numerous extra-point attempts through nine games, including a perfect six of six against Carroll County on Oct. 12. He also nailed one field goal from around 30 yards out. His right foot has come in handy for Henry County's football team, which is 7-2 heading into Friday's showdown at Scott High School.

"The first time I went out there to kick the ball in a scrimmage, I was nervous at first but that went away and I just did what they told me," Doane said after he made several kicks from various distances and angles during Monday's practice. "You don't want to think too much - just three steps back, two over and go for it. You think about it in practice, and once you get in the game you just kick. If you work hard enough in practice, it will show on the field."

Doane has come a long way in the short amount of time from his first day on the team. Before this past summer, he had never even put on football pads, or given the sport much thought. But with a soccer background, which he started as a five-year-old, and no boys' soccer team at HCHS, Doane was destined for the football field.

He first thought about joining the team towards the end of the school year last spring, talking to head coach Chris Engstrand about the possibility, and finally decided to trade in a soccer ball for a football during the summer.

"Before I started, I didn't know which way the block went to kick the ball, I stuttered, I had no height, no hang time and not much distance," Doane remembered. "It has really progressed since then."

Kicking a football, Doane explained, is nothing like kicking a soccer ball.

"There is a whole lot more technique involved," he said. "It's something I never had to deal with in soccer. You have to keep your head down, approach the ball differently and take the same swing each time. I've really enjoyed it though."

Doane received the help of assistant coach Matt Wright, former Wildcat kicker Chet Ervin and Chet's father Gary to make the transition much easier. Doane said Chet, in his one day working with him, made the biggest impact.

Ervin was a 2002 graduate of Henry County High School and 2006 graduate of the University of Cincinnati. After his record-setting performances at both schools, five different NFL teams put him through workouts" Philadelphia Eagles, Cincinnati Bengals, Indianapolis Colts, Kansas City Chiefs and St. Louis Rams - and he was offered a spot on a team in the Canadian Football League. He declined the offer and currently works for KMG Sports Management in Cincinnati, working with professional athletes daily in the Marketing/Public Relations department.

"He came here and worked with me after two to three games, which really helped out," Doane said of Ervin, the best kicker Henry County has ever seen who also started out playing soccer. "After he helped me, I could tell a huge difference."

Doane, who has kicked 50 yards in practice, has helped the Wildcats have one of their best seasons in recent memory. The Cats defeated Casey County (31-6), lost to Trimble County (36 -14), defeated Owen County (21-6) and lost to Pendleton County (33-26) before winning their next five games: North Oldham (19-7), Eminence (29-20), Western Hills (40-22), Carroll County (42-14) and Spencer County (39-21) for a 7-2 record.

They will take that five-game streak to Scott this Friday night. Scott, a 5A school with a 3-6 record, is standing in the way of Henry finishing the 2007 campaign with an 8-2 record, which would tie the school record for the most wins during the regular season.

Henry's perfect 3-0 mark in Class 2A, District Four play has already earned the Wildcats home field advantage in the opening round of the state playoffs against Western Hills on Nov. 10. And if they win that game, they will be at home again in second-round action, against either North Oldham or Spencer County.

Meanwhile, Doane continues to perfect his kicking game while not giving it much thought.

Three steps back. Two steps over. Go for it.

After working with the special teams on the practice field Monday after school - kickoffs, PAT and field goals - Doane takes a few footballs and heads to the main field, where he kicks a few balls from the practice block and retrieves them to kick again. It's a typical day for Doane, who also weight lifts and does conditioning with his teammates. While Doane is kicking away, the sounds of players splashing through the mud and the grunts of hard hits can be heard in the background, while Doane is left to his own thoughts.

"I wish I would have started kicking in middle school, or before," Doane said after finishing his practice routine. "I haven't given much thought to playing in college, but I have received a letter from Union College. Right now, though, it's just not at the top of my list.

"But I've had a lot of fun kicking this year," Doane added after a short pause. "It's taken a lot of time, a lot of commitment, but it's something I really have enjoyed."

E-mail us about this story at sports@hclocal.com.