Only three seconds remained in the first half of Friday's football game between Laguna Beach and Costa Mesa high schools when Jason Crabbe kicked a 52-yard field goal, giving Laguna Beach a slim lead at Davidson Field.
It was a prodigious kick, a school record, but Crabbe cannot claim sole distinction for the night's longest field goal.
In Glover Stadium at Anaheim, Phillip Nevin had already kicked one 52 yards in the first quarter, giving El Dorado an early lead over Katella. It also was a school record.
Meanwhile, in Fullerton District Stadium, Carlos Miramontes added to Sunny Hills' rout over Fullerton with a 46-yard field goal in the second quarter.
The three kicks--and kickers--are impressive, yet they can't hold a tee to Pat Blottiaux of Servite. Blottiaux, in a 6-0 victory over Marina Sept. 19, set the Orange County record with a 55-yard field goal in the first quarter. Then he broke it again with a 56-yarder in the fourth period. He has four kicks of 50 yards or more this year.
This season, footballs are flying through the uprights from longer distances, with greater accuracy, than ever before in Orange County high school football.
On Friday night, with 19 league games scheduled, there were eight field goals of 30 yards or more. On a similar night last season, there were only five of 30 yards or more, ranging from 33 to 47.
Last weekend, including Thursday, Friday and Saturday (a total of 30 games), there were 15 kicks of at least 30 yards. Nine were more than 35 and six more than 40.
"We've never had a kid who kicks like (Miramontes) does," Sunny Hills Coach Tim Devaney said.
Herb Hill, who has coached at Loara for 28 years, said, "They're just getting better and better. The numbers are up. There are more kids kicking, and the quality is better too."
The biggest reason for the improvement, coaches and players say, is a simple one: Soccer. The rise in the popularity of soccer at all levels, but particularly among grade school-age children, has introduced a new breed of football player--one accustomed to kicking.
There are linebackers, wide receivers and running backs who kick, but the common thread appears to be a soccer background.
"That's usually where everyone comes from," said Miramontes, who has played soccer since he was 6.
Crabbe also has played soccer since he was about 5. Brian Fleming, who has kicked a 41-yarder for Laguna Hills, was the Pacific Coast League's most valuable player in soccer last season.
"What's happened is that the soccer style has been in vogue now for 15 years or so," said Mike Milner, Fountain Valley coach. Milner coaches Derek Mahoney, who has kicked field goals of 45 and 42 yards this season.
"Coaches didn't know that much about it as far as techniques and how to coach it," Milner said. "Now they've learned how to coach it and correct the mechanics of it.
"The other thing is, obviously, soccer has become a popular interscholastic sport. The kids now come up playing soccer and they transfer the soccer background into kicking the football."
Milner said it has been 12 years since straight-on kickers have played.
"If you ask a kid who had never kicked before to tee off, he'd probably go from the soccer style," he said. "Fifteen years ago, if you asked a kid who'd never kicked, he'd go at it from straight on."
Players have become more sophisticated in their approaches to kicking.
"The placement of the left foot is most important," said Don Bradshaw, who is a right-footed kicker for Loara. "If it's even with the tee, then the kick will be good. If it's ahead, the ball will go to the right. If it's behind, the ball will go to the left."
Others try to keep the methods as simple as possible.
Blottiaux recalls overhearing this piece of advice at a summer camp: "This guy couldn't get the ball any higher than this (about four feet high). A coach came over and asked him if he had played soccer. The guy said yes, so the coach told him to kick the ball like he would a soccer ball.
"He did, and his kicks immediately got better. He had been trying to kick like a football player, when all he had to do was kick like a soccer player, how he knew how to kick."
Crabbe said he aims for the right upright and his kicks are usually straight through.
"It works, for me at least," he said.
Although some players, most notably Servite's Blottiaux, specialize in kicking, many play other positions.
Crabbe, a junior, is the Artists' starting outside linebacker. Nevin is the Golden Hawks' third-string quarterback. Miramontes played wide receiver in the Lancers' summer passing league. Fleming plays safety, wide receiver and punter. Bradshaw, who had a 43-yarder against Lakewood, is the Saxons' starting right cornerback.
When Jason Lavin lines up to kick for Tustin, he wears the black padded gloves linemen wear to protect their hands.
Lavin, a 6-foot 2-inch, 199-pound linebacker, took the kicking and punting job away from the Tillers' regular kicker after the first game. He has a 39-yard field goal to his credit.