Peer pressure motivated Sean Wale of La Habra to join the football team as a freshman.
"All my friends were playing and I didn't want to be left out," he said.
He had played soccer his "whole life," and the team needed a kicker, so he was an obvious choice.
"I had no idea what I was doing," he said. "I went out there to have fun. Everyone told me I should learn how to do it."
In his last two seasons on varsity, Wale has made 16 field goals and become one of the top kickers in Southern California entering his senior year.
"He's fantastic," La Habra Coach Frank Mazzotta said.
Wale has the size and athleticism to be more than just a kicker, standing 6 feet 3 and weighing 180 pounds. He goes out of his way to participate in weight training and speed drills with teammates.
For The Record
Los Angeles Times Friday, September 02, 2011 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 4 News Desk 1 inches; 34 words Type of Material: Correction
High school football: A chart of top Southland kickers that accompanied an article about La Habra's Sean Wale in the Sept. 1 Sports section included Kevon Seymour of Muir. Seymour is a defensive back.
"I do everything they do," Wale said proudly.
Added Mazzotta: "Sometimes the kickers are a little weird, but this kid is a regular football player."
Repetition and practice are what Wale relies on to excel. He has taken lessons from respected private kicking coach Chris Sailer and will try punting for the first time this fall.
He gave up soccer after his sophomore year and has come to appreciate the importance placed on a kicker in football.
"I like a new challenge, learning from scratch, and I like the pressure," he said. "You're either the hero or no one likes you. You get one chance and that's it. When you make it, everyone loves you."
Last season, La Habra struggled at times in the kicking game, with the blocking, snaps and holds unable to gain a level of consistency. The team has devoted more practice time to fixing last season's problems, and Wale is encouraged.
He faces strong competition in Southern California among a growing group of dedicated kickers who keep getting better.
Among the kickers to watch this fall are Conrad Ukropina of Los Angeles Loyola, who made eight field goals last season, including a long of 48; Garrett Owens of Arroyo Grande, one of the most athletic kickers; Brandt Davis of La Verne Bonita, a junior with tremendous accuracy; and Pavle Atanachovic of Crescenta Valley, who made five field goals in his first year on varsity.
The challenges for kickers go beyond dealing with pressure. They have become so important that coaches know they must search their campuses for someone who can fill the role.
Wale's importance comes into play on kickoffs. He can boot the ball into the end zone, forcing opponents to start drives from the 20-yard line. And he will be testing himself as a punter, which excites Mazzotta.
"He's going to be a huge asset," Mazzotta said.
And Wale is still waiting for the chance all kickers want: a field goal to win the game.
"That's every kicker's dream, to get that moment, a game-winning field goal," he said.
BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX
Top high school kickers
*--* Name School Ht. Wt. Cl. Pavle Atanackovic Crescenta Valley 6-2 195 Sr. *--*
* Soccer standout had five field goals.
*--* Alex Ball Westlake 6-3 200 Sr. *--*
* Has excellent leg strength.
*--* Brandt Davis Bonita 5-11 155 Jr. *--*
* Accurate as they come, making 13 of 15 field goals.
*--* Christian Gonzalez San Pedro 5-9 150 Jr. *--*
* Made eight field goals as a sophomore.
*--* Derek Huynen Fountain Valley 6-1 185 Jr. *--*
* Made a 50-yarder last season.
*--* Garrett Owens Arroyo Grande 5-9 165 Sr. *--*
* Made 11 field goals.
*--* Gavin Perdomo Edison 5-10 170 Jr. *--*
* Can kick long field goals.
*--* Ret Tilman Culver City 6-1 200 Sr. *--*
* Made school-record 53-yard field goal.
*--* Conrad Ukropina Loyola 6-1 175 Sr. *--*
* Kicks, punts and handles pressure.
*--* Sean Wale La Habra 6-3 170 Sr. *--*
* Athlete with powerful leg.
*--* Osborne Umeh Mayfair 6-2 220 Sr. *--*
* Booms ball on punts.
*--* Kevon Seymour Muir 6-0 170 Sr. *--*
* Lots of experience and big-play skills.
-- Eric Sondheimer