A running back can fumble and still get carries. A quarterback can throw interceptions yet continue to drop back in the pocket and fire away. A kicker misses a field goal and . . . might not get the chance to attempt another one.
It takes a lot for high school kickers to gain the trust of their coaches, which makes it all the more unusual that all 10 public high school teams in the Prince William County area have each kicked at least one field goal this season.
The area field goal total, through five games for most teams, is 22. Those same schools kicked 17 field goals all of last season, including in the playoffs.
The best-known kicker around is Osbourn senior Jay Graham, who has booted three game-winning field goals the past season-and-a-half. He also was the most outstanding kicker at a camp at the University of Virginia last summer.
Graham knows what it's like for his less-established booting brethren.
"If you haven't had a lot of attempts in the past, the initial attempts are really what sets the coach's trust," said Graham, who has kicked five field goals this season. "In high school, the position is just kind of there for whoever wants it. Not a lot of kids just go out to kick. It's mainly play a position first and [see] who can kick on the side."
Manassas Park attempted its first field goal of the season this past week in a 30-20 win at Strasburg. Senior Robby Mele, who often badgers Cougars Coach Jeff Lloyd for the opportunity to split the uprights, was true from 35 yards out after a penalty stalled a drive.
"He kind of knew if he didn't make it we might not try one again," Lloyd half-joked. "With your offense, because you work more with those kids and the ball is in their hands more, you probably trust them a little more. So many things can go wrong in the kicking game from a bad snap to a leak on blocking or a bad kick. . . . [The field goal] reinforces to him the importance of his role on the team."
Hylton senior Matt Martinez and Woodbridge junior Eric Buckenmeyer have each nailed 42-yarders this season, the longest in the area. Martinez likes playing in such a successful program, but he also is a bit envious of Graham, whose team does not score as many touchdowns as Hylton. That affords Graham more opportunities to kick field goals, both game-winning and otherwise.
"With Hylton being such a good team, we always score," Martinez said. "We don't go for the field goal; we go for [the first down] on fourth and three. Jay Graham . . . gets put in that position where the game is on the line for him. . . . We're always ahead by 20 or 30 points so I just try to keep my head in the game."
Gar-Field junior John Painter, recruited off the soccer team, has five field goals, all between 27 and 32 yards. In a practice before the season opener, the Indians gathered around Painter and screamed at him to put pressure on him. Amid the din he was booming 40-yard kicks.
Later that week, his 27-yarder in the first quarter against Osbourn helped Gar-Field recover from giving up a 74-yard touchdown run on the first play from scrimmage.
Indians Coach Joe Mangano said he comes from staffs that value kickers, and that has influenced the way he handles that aspect of high school football.
"I think sometimes it's what you're used to," he said. "I've been around coaches where kicking is just as important as offense and defense. When [Painter] hit the first one against Osbourn, since then I don't even flinch. He definitely gained my trust."