The Kent State field-goal kicking Florida phenomenon

Josh Johnston

Freddy Cortez has one thought on his mind.

In class, on the field, lining up for a kick, it’s all the same: head down, follow through.

For a position known for its head cases, Kent State’s sophomore kicker doesn’t sweat under pressure. Just head down and follow through.

Cortez, a Fort Meade, Fla. native, knocked in 13 field goals last year as a freshman, his longest from 46 yards away. This year he’s on pace to better those marks with four 3-pointers in the Flashes’ first three games. He’s nearly automatic on extra point attempts too, going 28-for-30 in his career.

Sports editor Josh Johnston caught up with Cortez to find out his secret to keeping cool in front of the uprights. After all, it’s only three points, right?

How’d you get started kicking?

Sixth grade, I started playing little league. I wasn’t really interested in kicking, but my brother kicked in high school, so they kind of figured might as well start me young. Kicking wasn’t really a focus of mine until my seventh-grade year. My brother sat down with me and said, “No matter what’s going to happen, you’re going to be a kicker in high school.”

That’s when I started focusing on doing field goals and stuff in little league. From there it just carried on to JV and varsity and now here.

How far can a sixth-grader actually kick?

I didn’t have much technique then, but I had a pretty strong leg for a little guy. We kicked off from the 40 (yard line). They usually went to the 10, but you know, smaller ball and stuff.

So how far can you kick now?

In a game, my longest attempt is a 47. My longest make is a 46. I can range easily consistently probably 55 and in. Every now and then, I’ll probably go one-for-three on a sixty yarder. It all depends on how good I feel.

Today I tried to go for a 60 and the dude said I missed it about two yards short. But 55 and in, I’m pretty happy with that.

Coach Doug Martin had concerns about your leg strength coming into this season after you were injured in the offseason. How were you feeling at the beginning of the season?

I was actually questioning my strength, too. Every day I would wonder how far am I ever going to kick. Actually, (the injury) didn’t affect me at all. My kickoffs are probably a little higher, probably a couple yards deeper.

Kickers are known to be head cases sometimes. What goes through your mind before a field goal attempt?

I try my best to zone out the crowd. I tell myself usually the same thing: good steps, keep your head down, follow through. Usually when I kick it, just from kicking it, I know whether I’m going to make it or not.

My brother preaches every time I’m with him, “head down, follow through.” Usually when I’m in class I write it down.

Your streak of seven straight field goals ended at Penn State. Were you disappointed?

I was very disappointed, actually. I kind of felt my confidence go down a little bit, but at the same time what helped me out was I knew what I did wrong. So if I had another opportunity, I knew what not to do. The little streak I had going, it was nice, but it had to end sometime.

When you get a streak like that going do you have any superstitions, like you won’t change your socks or something like that?

I just do the same thing before every game. I read my Bible, pray before I kick, pray before I warm up, make sure I catch a jog down and back to get loose. Usually when I have a streak like that, I stay away from all the media. I shy away from all that stuff, what they say, because in high school I used to let it get to my head. I’ve got to humble myself. So the more I keep away from the media, the better I do.

Is there any specific verse in the Bible you think of?

(Pulls on rubber band around his wrist) I’ve actually got them written down. It’s Philippians 4:13 and Luke 14:11. After every kick — make or miss, bad or good kickoff — I do my little cross thing and give Him all the honor and glory for everything.

As a kicker, you’re the last man between the returner and the end zone. Most kickers will try to run a guy out of bounds, but you’d rather tackle, right?

I actually love tackling. I’m a little timid because of my shoulder (injury). I don’t practice it that often, but I kind of know what to do. I usually aim for the legs unless they try to jump, then I try to clip them or something.

I don’t shy away. The only time I’d ever shy away is if the dude’s humongous or something. I try not to use the sideline, but it helps a lot. I’m not going to try to push him; I’m going to try to hit him.

When was the last time you had to make a tackle?

Last year against Temple. He broke and kind of juked me a little bit. I went one way, he went the other. Thank God for my soccer skills. I hit him right in the shin and he fell.

I get disappointed when I have to make a tackle because it’s my job to put it in a certain spot and if I don’t then they break and it’s up to me.

Contact Josh Johnston at [email protected].