By Jean DePlacido
---- — For over 40 years Rick Gonsalves has been a student of the kicking game, and has a new book out called Placekicking in the NFL that is chock full of interesting aspects of the game along with all the statistics to back it up.
This book could be on the desk of every NFL coach because it is filled with little known facts from the earliest days to current times about the history of placekicking. It is also an analysis of the technical aspects, and includes biographies of famous kickers in the game.
Gonsalves kicked for Gloucester High and Bridgewater State. For the past 37 years he has run the Cape Ann Kicking Academy in Gloucester working with junior high, high school, and college kickers. Five of his students have been invited to NFL training camps, but what he is most proud of is helping 35 of them get scholarships and go on to have outstanding college careers.
“Only one percent get to the pros,” said Gonsalves, who also wrote two other books called Specialty Teams and All Time NFL Kicking Records (which is updated every year). “I worked with Mike Powers (Gloucester), who kicked five field goals in his first game as a freshman at Colgate. He helped his team beat Army, 15-14 and set a couple of NCAA records.”
Everything football fans would ever want to know about the art of kicking is covered in the book that is published by McFarland & Company. Gonsalves writes about the evolution of kicking, various styles, the differences in domed stadiums, artificial turf, famous and infamous kickers.
“It took me four years to write,” said the Essex resident. “A lot of people don’t understand the mindset of a kicker and the strategy involved. There’s a lot of pressure when you’re a kicker in a stadium full of cheering fans; look what Adam Vinatieri did with two kicks to win Super Bowls.”
In the book Vinatieri’s career is detailed, and in the chapter called ‘Memorable Field Goals’ in the NFL his two kicks to tie and win the Patriots-Raiders playoff game in 2002 are featured right at the top. Gonsalves notes that Vinatieri is the only kicker to win two Super Bowls with last second kicks. In fact, No. 4 in a Patriot uniform is featured on the cover.
Most NFL coaches call a timeout before the kicker attempts a crucial field goal to ice him. Gonsalves says that strategy works sometimes, but not always.
“I always tell my kids to unstrap their helmet and stand there with their arms folded looking at the opposing coach,” said Gonsalves. “You can’t let him think he’s getting to you. Kicking should be mechanical. You have to use the goal post to your advantage, and I always tell my students to aim for the middle.”
Gonsalves works with young kickers still trying to perfect their craft, but he has also given pointers to a few pros where missed kicks can result in being cut.
“You have to do the same thing over and over so you get to the point you can make the kick almost blindfolded. My book came out in December which gave me a six week window until the Super Bowl. I had hoped to get it out earlier, but it still sold well, and I’ve received great feedback from some pretty big names,” he said.
“In the NFL 20 percent of all points scored come from field goals and extra points while each season around 30 percent of all games are won by field goals, but a missed kick can put a guy out of a job pretty quickly. You go from hero to zero or zero to hero in a matter of seconds
The next project Gonsalves has in the works is an in-depth documentary on the kicking game called Football’s Lonely Heroes.
“Eddie Murray and Morten Andersen recommended me to a film maker in Seattle,” said Gonsalves. “I was in an ESPN documentary film called ‘The NFL Presents the Kicking Game’ about nine years ago that is still shown on television from time to time. Steve Sabol, the late president of NFL films, contacted me for that. I also have a treatment done for a movie called ‘Final Moments’ based on a real person. It’s about a high school kid, who is addicted to alcohol and drugs, but football saves him.”
Gonsalves has some advice for pro football owners, who are considering making changes in the extra point because it has become almost automatic.
“Leave it alone or move it back to the 20 yard line,” he said. “There were only five misses all last season. About one third of the points a kicker scores are from extra points; that’s amazing since they come when no time is registered on the field.”
Gonsalves is a fan of the drop kick, and was delighted when Patriot coach Bill Belichick let Doug Flutie do it and make it a few years ago.
“I teach drop kicking to my kids, and some of them make eight out of 10,” said Gonsalves. “It’s because they play soccer, too. I’m in favor of the NFL bringing back the drop kick; 81 games were lost by four points or less last season — that’s 31 percent of the schedule. Put the drop kick in and make it worth two points, give teams that option. It’s a lot harder to do now that the ball is pointed. Back in the 1920’s the football was shaped like a watermelon.”