For Alexandria eighth-grader Daniel Jackson, this is just the beginning of a long process in the journey he hopes to go on in football, but a two-day camp in Texas with some other top high school kickers across the country was a big step in that process.
Jackson recently got back from the Kicking World National Showcase in Austin, Texas after earning an invite to the showcase with how he performed at a Kicking World camp in Minnesota this past summer. The 13-year-old nailed a 50-yard field goal at that camp, and that was his long again as he competed as the youngest kicker at the showcase in Texas in an event that featured close to 90 students in grades 9-12.
“It was a great atmosphere,” Jackson said. “It was really fun to hang out with a lot of the other kickers. The day before the camp, I was really nervous. Once I got there and started seeing my friends compete and all the other kids kicking, it calmed my nerves. For some reason whenever I’m in competition, I get super nervous before, but during it, I’m calm.”
Brent Grablachoff, the owner and head coach of Kicking World, said Jackson is the first eighth-grader that they ever invited to this showcase. Coaches from Kicking World saw him at the camp in Minnesota this past June and were confident then that he deserved an invite.
“He wound up hanging right in the middle of the pack with most of the freshman and sophomores, which was pretty cool to see,” Grablachoff said of Jackson’s performance Dec. 5-6 in Texas. “It was well deserved and he was totally suitable to be there. If he keeps progressing on the same track he has done in the last six months over the next year or two, there’s no telling where he’s going to go in high school.”
The recent showcase is designed to help athletes work on both the mental and physical aspects of being a specialist in football. The days started with a speaker that talked to the athletes about the college-recruiting process and the psychology behind being a kicker.
“This wasn’t specific to kicking, but it applies to everything,” Jackson said. “It had some good tips, like breathing tips. If you’re up to kick and you focus on failing, then that’s usually what’s going to happen. If you focus on hitting the ball good, it usually goes in.”
The first day had the kickers going through a series of kickoffs, punts and field goals at different distances so coaches could chart the results.
Day two features a more competitive format. The athletes went through a series of kickoff, punt and field goal elimination rounds. The field goal portion was a double-elimination format, and Jackson’s first miss came from 35 yards when he missed just left.
He bounced back from that by making his following kicks that included a 50-yarder. That got him all the way to a 55-yard attempt that he missed short.
“It’s definitely something you want to work on,” Jackson said about his ability to move on from his miss at 35 yards. “You want to be good at that. At the camps, I have been really good at that so far, but I feel like it’s definitely something I need to work on. If I’m practicing and I have a bad day, I can get really frustrated. I just need to put that behind me and be ready for the next day.”
Jackson's best kickoff was 61 yards with a 3.78-second hang time. He was also excited about blowing way past his previous personal best punt with an official 43-yarder and a 3.87-second hang time. Jackson also got to kick an "unofficial" punt on day two for the livestream of the event, and he went even further with a 45-yarder and a 4.16-second hang time.
“One of (the reasons for the longer punt) was watching a lot of the other kickers at the camp,” Jackson said. “The other thing was all the work I did on punting after the Minneapolis camp. They gave me a lot of tips after the Minneapolis camp for punting, and I just kept practicing and got a lot better.”
Jackson made 82% of his field goals from 45 yards and in. That was 17th best out of 84 kickers.
Field-goal kicking is what initially got Jackson so excited about football, but he wants to be a well-rounded player who will eventually excel at punting and kickoffs too.
“I think that gives me a better chance of being versatile and getting (a college) offer easier,” Jackson said. “I feel like that has a lot more value to colleges.”
Grablachoff said the biggest things a young kicker like Jackson needs to focus on to keep improving are form and fundamentals.
“That’s the key because no matter how strong you are, if you don’t have good fundamentals it doesn’t really matter too much,” Grablachoff said. “There’s a lot of good kickers out there who aren’t the biggest people, but they have a really precise foot to ball contact...he’s certainly on track. He’s ahead of schedule for his age. As long as he stays focused, has some good opportunities when he makes it to high school as far as in-game field goal chances and has a good hold and snap and does well under pressure, I think he could be someone by his sophomore year of high school who starts getting some college interest.”
Jackson said one of the speakers at the showcase talked about the low percentage of high school athletes who play at any level of college. He knows what the odds say, but that isn’t stopping him from setting lofty goals and working to try to accomplish them.
“That just really proves I need to keep working hard and the results should come,” Jackson said. “I want to become an NFL kicker. It’s going to be a lot of work, but I definitely want to do that.”