The best kicker in the Mountain West Conference had to be dragged into football by his high school coach’s daughter.
Parker Herrington, now a senior at Air Force, was a soccer player in high school. He played basketball and baseball too, but soccer was his first love, the sport he played since he was 4 years old. Ann Janocko was Herrington’s good friend in high school, and she was also the daughter of Clearfield (Pa.) High School football coach Tim Janocko. She did a pretty good job recruiting for her dad’s team.
“I don’t know if she recruited him or threatened him,” Tim Janocko said with a laugh.
No matter, Herrington gave in and years later he’s one of the top players returning for an Air Force team that begins training camp practice Friday, a phenomenal leap considering he’s still relatively new to kicking a football.
Most top college kickers have been kicking for a while, and attended kicking camps in high school to get noticed by college recruiters. Football was a side hobby for Herrington. As a junior in high school he agreed to kick for the football team, shuttling between football and soccer practice every day during the week. As a senior, he made a choice: soccer was his priority, and the football team would have to work around that.
“I felt like I was letting my teammates down on the soccer team, because I was the captain, and said ‘I can’t be splitting time,’” Herrington said. “I told the coach, ‘I’ll show up on Friday nights, that’s the way it is.’”
Janocko said Herrington did end up practicing a bit with football his senior year, but it wasn’t that often. He was basically a ringer for the football team who would show up Friday nights to kick. That was only four seasons ago, which puts Herrington’s accomplishments at Air Force into perspective.
Herrington wanted to play soccer in college but got only Division II offers. He didn’t go to Air Force for football, but his high school coach – much like his daughter a couple of years earlier – didn’t give him a choice.
“He said, ‘You’ve got to go down and try out,’” Herrington said. “I’m like, ‘What if I don’t want to?’ And he said, ‘We’re going to have words if you come home and haven’t tried out.’”
“I felt we had a Division I kicker here,” Janocko said. “I felt he could definitely compete there.”
Herrington’s success story seems even more impossible when one considers he was a virtual unknown a year ago, and almost quit football to try soccer near the end of his sophomore year.
Herrington kicked well on the junior varsity team as a freshman, but when he was a sophomore the junior varsity had a freshman kicker and he was behind Erik Soderberg on varsity. He didn’t kick at all.
“I felt I was good enough to play soccer here,” said Herrington, who still uses a soccer ball for some of his football kicking practice. “I was one step from dropping it and going to play soccer.”
Herrington had a good spring practice, and was told he had a shot to be Air Force’s kicker in the fall. He won the job in training camp, and then had a surprise season hitting 83.3 percent of his field goals. He was named first-team all-conference. He was named to the preseason all-conference team this year.
“He’s a very driven guy,” Air Force coach Troy Calhoun said. “I think he has the right temperament you want in a kicker. He’s focused. He’s a really, really solid, dependable kid.”
Herrington has to follow up his performance from last year, which might be even tougher. That’s why, while the preseason all-conference honor was nice, as was being one of 30 kickers on the Lou Groza Award watch list, he downplays every accolade.
“The best thing about last year was nobody had any expectations,” Herrington said. “Nobody knew who I was. When I kick, I don’t see fans, I don’t hear them or anything else. I block it all out - that’s what I’m trying to do with everything else that’s going on right now.”
Contact Frank Schwab: 476-4891
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