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VALLEY / VENTURA COUNTY SPORTS

Small-Town Boy Swings Big Foot

Frazier Mountain's Jason Tompkins emerges from obscurity with his booming kicks and long-distance field goals.

October 13, 2000|DAVE DESMOND | TIMES STAFF WRITER

LEBEC — The elevation is about 4,800 feet here, just a long field goal away from the Grapevine, where they built in 1996 Frazier Mountain High a few hundred feet from the San Andreas Fault.

It's an area most often seen on television when Interstate 5 is closed because of snow and commuters are stranded on the roadside.

Or in 1991, when environmental artist Christo erected 1,700 giant yellow umbrellas into the nearby mountainside as a publicity stunt.

Now there is another reason for the spotlight to shine on this small town: Jason Tompkins.

With every booming kick, the word spreads about the 6-foot, 170-pound senior kicker.

He has kicked a region-best 57-yard field goal. He also kicked a 50-yarder. An attempt last week from 61 fell a yard short.

And here's the kicker: Tompkins doesn't use a tee, standard equipment among high school kickers.

A Division I college coach recently called Tompkins with the standard recruiting pitch. At one point, the coach explained, "You know, there's a big transition from high school kicking to the college game because we don't use a tee," he said.

Tompkins told the coach he hadn't used a tee for field goals since his junior season.

"He nearly dropped the phone and had an attack," Tompkins said.

When first-year Coach Jason Fayter arrived at Frazier Mountain last spring, he found a program reeling from an 0-9 season, a few solid athletes and a seldom-used kicker with a booming right leg.

Tompkins had kicked a 65-yard field goal off a tee in practice as a junior, but was only one for three--a 45-yarder--on field goals and five for five on point-after attempts for a team that struggled to get past midfield.

Fayter's first move was to take the tee away from Tompkins, an All-Southern Section soccer player who scored a school-record 31 goals while leading the Falcons to the Division V semifinals.

"He was such a good soccer player that I figured it wouldn't be that big of a transition for him to kick a football off the ground," said Fayter, whose resurgent team is 4-1 and hosts Mojave, ranked No. 4 in Division XII, tonight in a key High Desert League game.

Last February, when Fayter lined Tompkins up for his first attempt sans tee, Tompkins missed.

End of adjustment period.

Tompkins made his next 25 attempts that day, most from the 45-yard range.

This season, Tompkins has made all 14 point-after kicks, but is only six for 12 on field goals.

His successful kicks have come from 57, 50, 48, 39, 39 and 25 yards. His misses have been from 61, 60, 55 in the rain, 54, 48 and 47 yards.

The misses, all of them wide except the 61-yard attempt, don't faze Tompkins' teammates or coaches, who view the long attempts as a good alternative to punting.

Each missed kick has reached the end zone, leaving opponents to begin drives at their own 20-yard line.

"It's a win-win situation for us," tailback Alex Cook said. "If he makes it, it's three for us. If he misses, the other team is still pinned back. Field position is a huge factor in our success."

And it goes beyond kicking field goals.

Tompkins averaged 44 yards a punt last season and has been effective again this year. Of his 23 kickoffs, 18 have been touchbacks.

In his first season as a receiver, Tompkins has 15 catches, including six for touchdowns.

His nine-yard touchdown reception in the fourth quarter last week against Bishop Union tied the score, 13-13. His extra point gave the Falcons the lead, and they went on to a 21-13 victory.

Some will point to Frazier Mountain's high altitude as a factor in Tompkins' success. That might be true. He says he notices about a four-yard difference in distance between home and away games.

But his 57-yard field goal two weeks ago was at Desert, at a much lower elevation.

Those who have seen him have little doubt Tompkins is the best kicker in the region.

"We had [a veteran referee] come to one of our games and tell us he had just watched the best kicker he had ever seen, at Frazier Mountain," said Highland Coach Lin Parker, who has coached All-Valley kickers Derek Brown and Jose Duarte.

Michigan State, Oregon, Oregon State and New Mexico have requested videotapes of Tompkins.

As a junior, Tompkins attracted attention for other reasons.

He bleached his naturally brown hair and wore bright red soccer cleats on the football field. The red shoes earned him the nickname "Dorothy," after the Wizard of Oz character.

Fayter made an adjustment there, as well.

The hair is turning brown again, and Tompkins is wearing shoes that match his teammates'.

"I'm not big on guys standing out individually," he said. "When it comes to their play, that's a different story. He's making his statements this year with his performance."

Now classmates call Tompkins "57," for his long field goal.

"It's getting a little old," said Tompkins, who hopes to change the name once or twice more before he's done.

Maybe to "60" or "61."

"I'd be very happy with that," he said.

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