CATAWISSA RR — It’s way too early to draw conclusions on what may come from Southern Columbia placekicker Ethan Dunkelberger’s one-year football career, but if last Friday’s debut against Bloomsburg is any indicator — his season is looking bright.
Dunkelberger went 7-for-7 in extra points as the Tigers’ high-powered offense ran over the Panther defense and his performance on kickoffs helped earn the confidence of head coach Jim Roth.
During the District 4 Media Day held in July, Roth said replacing the graduated Elijah Hoffman, who earned numerous accolades during his record-breaking senior year, was one of the main concerns of his coaching staff.
At that point, Dunkelberger was not even in the equation to replace his former teammate on the soccer team.
“I didn’t start kicking until heat acclimation week,” he said.
Roth explained that the coaching staff had another soccer player lined up to succeed Hoffman, but due to a preseason ACL injury, Dunkelberger got the spot.
“Coach (Roth) didn’t come looking for me,” Dunkelberger said. “I found out what had happened and heard the position was open so I went to him and that’s how it started.”
Roth said he is most impressed with the senior’s ability to handle pressure.
“He doesn’t seem to have any nerves,” he said. “He will make mistakes during practices and find a way to turn them into positives. That’s something that is rare to find and it has helped a lot with his learning curve.”
THE LEARNING CURVE
Dunkelberger said learning to kick a football has gone much smoother than he expected.
“I had never kicked one until a few weeks ago,” he said. “The biggest thing I’m learning is the flight path of the ball. It’s totally different to a soccer ball.”
Dunkelberger said he’s aware the chances of a regular season game coming down to a last-second field goal kick are extremely small, but he still had to deal with the pressure of being expected to perform.
“When I got out on the field against Bloomsburg, I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t nervous,” he said. “But once I made the first kickoff it went away.”
Despite having no game experience, Dunkelberger looked like he had been on the special teams squad since his freshman season during the debut. He nailed 7-for-7 extra points, none of which were questionable, and consistently reached the 5-yard line on kickoffs.
Roth said his impression of Dunkelberger rose significantly after seeing him go through the motions.
“After seeing him out there, we’re going to be more comfortable calling on him for field goals.”
Dunkelberger did not get a shot at scoring three-points, despite a fourth-down situation where he thought he might get called on.
“There was one point where we hit fourth down and I could have had about a 40-yarder but they went for it,” he said. “I got a little bit nervous, but nothing ever happened.”
Dunkelberger said he is comfortable kicking in practice in excess of 40 yards, though Roth said his game time evaluation of him is likely to bring limits of around 30 to 35 yards for the time being.
But that could change very quickly.
“He has made great progress so far,” Roth said. “We’re really pleased with what we see and we have high expectations for him to do what we need.”
ONE OF THE TEAM
Dunkelberger said his transition from a full-time soccer player in the fall to now playing football has been made simple because of the help of Roth and assistant coach Roger Nunkester along with some of his friends who are on the team.
“Matt Irons and Stone Hollenbach have made the transition really easy for me,” he said. “I’ve known Matt all my life and Stone is a great leader who is very helpful. Oak Six has also been great helping me feel comfortable.”
Dunkelberger said he has felt like a part of the team from day one in a locker room that he describes is ripe with joking and ribbing yet never crosses the line.
“It has been a great experience,” he said, noting that he wouldn’t rule out a few pranks being played on him before the end of the season.
The situation at Southern Columbia with a soccer player hitting the gridiron is hardly new. Both Hoffman and, before him, Tyler Keiser pulled the same trick, both of whom had success with the Tigers.
For Dunkelberger, he said, soccer is remaining the number one.
“I will practice with the team but we do it quickly and then I go to soccer practice,” he said. “Thankfully, we don’t have any games scheduled for Fridays so that won’t get in the way of anything.”
Dunkelberger said he hasn’t had time to come up with any specific individual goals for the 2018 season, but said if he can continue performing like he did against Bloomsburg, he will be very happy with the year.
“The only problem I felt I had with the Bloomsburg game was one kick that went out of bounds, but it was really close,” he said. “Other than that I thought it went perfect.”