On Sept. 13, Alex Graves, ’11, kicked for the Occidental football team in the Tigers’ under-the lights season opener against the University of La Verne.
“It was nerve-wracking,” he said. “My first college game for football was my senior year.”
Yes, that’s right.
After four years of playing goalie on the soccer team at Country Day and two at Occidental, Graves now plays on the football field.
Graves was first approached about joining the Oxy football team his sophomore year, as the kicker was going to graduate Graves’s junior year.
But Graves was already working as a student athletic trainer for the football team at the time and said he didn’t have time to add a sport.
His junior year, Graves did not play a sport at all. He said he wasn’t playing as much as he wanted in soccer and that he was more focused on school. He continued scientific research he started his sophomore year and got jobs outside of school, which led to his quitting soccer.
But when the football team was unable to recruit a kicker for his senior year, he agreed to do it.
Even though he had never played football before, Graves was able to hold the position over a kicker who transferred to Occidental over the summer.
That transfer student kicked for the first two preseason games and didn’t do well. So the coach gave Graves a chance.
“(I) beat out an actual kicker to earn that spot!” he said.
Graves had had no previous exposure to a school football experience.
“(At) other high schools, football is a really big deal,” he said. “That intensity just carries over into college. (It) becomes more intense.”
In fact, Graves said that the change in intensity is something he likes most about football.
However, he also said that after playing soccer for more than half of his life, he misses the team aspect of the sport.
He’s had to adjust to the kicker position after so many years of being a team player.
“It’s hard to come on as a kicker,” he said. “(The kicker) is his own player.”
The kicker position is a small, specialized unit, he said. Joining the team as a kicker, Graves said he was like “an outsider coming into a role that’s already more or less ostracized.”
In addition, Graves is blind in one eye. Although this disability affected his play on the soccer field, it didn’t on the football field.
“As I got older and played (college soccer), the pace of play was so much faster that I couldn’t keep up anymore, which led to me not playing because I was just not as good,” he said.
He said the blindness is not very relevant in football because he simply kicks.
“The depth perception isn’t a problem,” he said.“I know the exact distance I am going to kick before I even step on the field for the PATs (points after touchdowns) or the field goal.”
He is more concerned about being hurt in football than in soccer, he said. “But it’s a pretty rare incident to be tackled as a kicker.”
SCDS soccer coach Matt Vargo agrees. While there is the possibility that Graves could get hurt, he is at less of a risk than are other players, Vargo said.
“The kicker’s the last man on defense, so (he’s) not running down smashing into people,” Vargo said. “He’s the last safety valve.”
Vargo said an athlete’s switch from a soccer player to a football kicker is actually very common. “Most successful kickers were former soccer players at some point in their lives,” Vargo said.
But Graves said that soccer hasn’t helped him on the football field besides the overall athleticism and the motion of kicking a ball.
He actually had to relearn how to kick.
“There are many ways to kick a soccer ball,” he said. However, in football, “for a field goal, there’s only part of the bone you want to hit the ball (with).”
The best region of the foot with which to kick the football is the metatarsal, the long group of bones in the middle of the foot that provides a flat surface for kicking.
Over the summer, Graves worked out a couple of times with the former Oxy kicker. He also watched videos online to learn how to kick.
Though it wasn’t initially bad adapting his skills to kick a football, Graves said the hardest adjustment was learning the timing.
To complete a field goal, one player snaps the ball. The holder catches it then places it on the ground so that the kicker can run up and kick the ball.
In his first game, a 33-27 win over La Verne, his first field goal was blocked, he said. At the time, Graves said he remembered thinking, “This is going to be harder than I thought.”
However, that didn’t hold true for long. Later in the game, he kicked a field goal and also made all of his PATs.
In a 23-17 home victory over Whittier College, Oct. 11, Graves had his first perfect game: he made every one of his three kicks (all PATs).
The Tigers play in the Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference against schools including Chapman, Redlands, Cal Lutheran, La Verne, Whittier, Pomona-Pitzer and Claremont-Mudd-Scripps.
Graves described the home crowd as “moderate.”
“Normally, it’s not quiet, but it’s not super loud,” he said.
While there were 3,000 in attendance at the homecoming game against Claremont-Mudd-Scripps, the typical number is from 200-700 people, Graves said.
The Tigers finished the season 5-4, with four of the wins at home.
Graves finished the season making two of four field goals and 26 of 27 PATs.
Previously published in the print edition on Nov. 25, 2014.