In football, kickers can often feel like the loneliest players on the field — even when surrounded by thousands of screaming fans. Standing on the sidelines for much of the game, kickers can become a hero or a goat in an instant and often get just one chance to make a decisive impact on a game.
Mingling amongst hulking linemen and superstar skill position players, kickers can look quite unassuming. So perhaps it's fitting that some of the best kicking instruction to be had comes from the mind of a coach who doesn't quite blend in with the crowd.
In mid-June, Georgia Southern's football practice fields were taken over by a couple of dozen kickers ranging from the youth to high school levels for a four-day kicking camp run by Carol White, one of the preeminent names in the special teams world.
White became the first female to serve as a collegiate coach in the 1980s when she served as the special teams coach for Bill Curry at Georgia Tech. Since leaving the sidelines, White has continued to preach the ins and outs of the kicking game at camps throughout the Southeast.
"We're teachers," White said of her camps and her Kick-Aid organization. "What we teach is proper technique, proper practice technique and how to best use the field."
That analytical approach is what started White down the road to special teams in the first place.
Originally an assistant coach with Monroe High School in Albany, Georgia, in the '70s, White was a linebackers coach.
"Our head coach at the time told me that with my science and math background, I should add special teams," White said. "He told me to find the best person and learn from them."
That person was Edward J. Storey. One of the first to examine the physics of kicking a football, Storey worked to optimize how players could best kick and control the ball. A devoted disciple of his techniques, White compares Storey's contribution to special teams to that of Dr. James Naismith's work on basketball.
Later in her high school coaching career, White changed up her normal routine, attending a coaches' clinic at Georgia Tech instead of the University of Georgia.
"(Former Brigham Young University coach) LaVell Edwards was going to be the featured speaker that year," White said. "When I got there, I saw that the coaches at Georgia Tech were wearing suits and carrying briefcases. That appealed to my style more than the clinics where coaches joke over beer and talk about how great they are."
As impressed as White was with the clinic, Georgia Tech was equally impressed with her, offering her a special teams coaching job on the spot after hearing her go into detail talking about intricacies of the kicking game. Years later, White's devotion to the science and formula of kicking a football is still the bedrock of her camps.
"We don't do it like some kicking camps and hold contests," White said. "It's not about competing against one another on the last day and sending home one winner and a lot of losers. In our camp, the takeaway is that everyone goes home knowing that they're making personal progress."
That progress is achieved by going much further in depth that strengthening legs and seeing how far campers can make a ball fly. Just as much of a classroom session as it is a physically demanding camp, White's students are walked through proper mechanics, balance and theory of how to execute a kick.
All campers assign themselves grades on how well they execute each step of the process, and instead of a big showcase at the end of the camp's nine practice sessions, participants are put through a "final exam."
In more than 25 years of running these camps and clinics, the biggest testament to White's success is that she doesn't have to go in search of qualified instructors to run each session. No matter where camps are held, current or former players who have gone through White's training step up to teach the next generation of specialists.
At the Georgia Southern camp, that direction came in the form of Mike Dowis, whose kicking clinched arguably the biggest win in Eagle history when his 20-yard field goal with 1:41 to play earned Georgia Southern the 1989 national championship and a perfect 15-0 season.
"I'm lucky to have some great instructors working for me," White said. "They've been through this and can relate to what these kids are trying to learn. It's a tough task to ask growing boys to plant their non-dominant foot in an exact spot while maximizing the swing path of their kicking leg. And you aren't just kicking the ball randomly downfield and hoping someone runs under it. We teach knowing what everyone on the field is doing."
With over two dozen former campers making it to the professional ranks and hundreds more having kicked or snapped their way through high school and into a college program, White is doing well by the lessons she learned from Storey.
Thanks to Carol White and her intellectual approach to special teams, youth players all over the country have stopped blending into the sidelines and are now putting their best foot forward.
Mike Anthony may be reached at (912) 489-9408.