Staff Photo: Jason Braverman
Brookwood kicker Erick Yang joined the football team this year after playing soccer for the Broncos. His steady kicking has helped Brookwood earn a spot in the Class AAAAA state semifinals.
It sounds like hyperbole.
“When he kicked off in the Dome that was the first time he ever had a football uniform on and it was the first time he had ever seen a Brookwood football game.”
THE YANG FILE
Who: Erick Yang
Favorite athlete: Ronaldo
Dream job: “I don’t really know.”
Favorite sports team: Chelsea FC
• Longtime soccer player in his first season of football
• Has made four field goals of 40-plus yards in the playoffs, including a 49-yarder against Norcross and a 48-yarder against Alpharetta
• Longest made field goal is 60 yards in practice
• Can kick the ball off into the end zone with either foot
• Has broke school season records for made field goals (15) and made extra points (58)
That’s Brookwood head coach Mark Crews talking about his senior kicker Erick Yang, and there is no exaggeration.
When Brookwood scored its first touchdown that game, Yang didn’t even know where to put the tee for the extra point. In practice he has just kicked from where they told him.
“We didn’t really have any real-game simulation,” Yang said.
He made the kick and many more makes followed. He’s 15-for-21 on field goals this season and 58 of 60 on extra points, accounting for 103 points, making him the county’s scoring leader among kickers. His made field goals and extra point totals are both Brookwood season records.
Yang is no savant. He has the two missed extra points (one was a bad snap, he claims) and six field goal misfires (“That was earlier in the year and they were from a long way”). But for a soccer player who had never kicked a football until spring and never put on pads until August, his talents give Brookwood security at what can be a fragile position.
We take kickers for granted.
Every extra point seems to split the uprights and unless it’s a remarkable distance, field goals are expectations rather than hopes. Kickers are rarely loved, but can be hated. Like a short putt in golf, people only notice when kicks are missed.
“How important is it? Ask Bobby Bowden how important it is,” Crews said, noting the seeming curse of kicks missed wide right at Florida State under its former coach. “There is nothing routine about field goals especially with high school kids.”
Yang may be a recent convert to football, but he is proud of his position and knows the impact he has.
“It wins games,” Yang said of his trade. “Did you see the Georgia-Georgia Tech game? Wow.”
And Yang does more than just kick field goals. As the Broncos’ kickoff man, Yang’s kicks typically roll through the end zone. He put one kickoff, aided by wind and a 15-yard penalty, through the uprights last Friday night.
“It’s unbelievable how hard he can kick the dang football,” Crews said.
His power is ambidextrous. Against Central Gwinnett, the right-foot dominant Yang claimed a weary leg and asked if he could kick off with his left foot. In practice he’s put it through the end zone left-footed.
“He said, ‘Coach I am kind of tired.’ I said, ‘Bull, you are trying to show off,’” Crews said.
Yang sticks to his right foot in close games.
“I don’t know if I am clutch enough to do it in the game,” Yang said of getting the ball through the end zone.
On a dreary Monday, the next game days away, Yang seems reserved. His mood is the antithesis of him after Brookwood’s win over Hillgrove. After the quarterfinal victory, Yang darted around the field from teammate to teammate and coach to coach, hugging each of them, smiling wide. After field goals he’ll run into the arms of Crews.
“He’s having the time of his life,” Crews said. “He’s never been a part of something like this before.”
As a senior, this year will be his only chance, at least in high school. And it’s a chance he nearly passed up.
During soccer practice in the spring, Yang asked some of his friends who were passing a football if he could give it a kick. Obviously it went a good distance and among those watching was long-snapper/defensive back/tight end Nick Moore. He asked Yang to try football. Yang resisted. Moore persisted.
“At first I didn’t really want to,” Yang said. “But I came to practice over the summer and that pretty much sealed it.”
His first day kicking sold Crews on his potential. He kicked at least 10 field goals from as far away as 47 yards and missed just one. Kicking wasn’t Crews’ concern, dedication was.
Soccer is a year-round sport where players are individuals on myriad teams. There are high school teams, indoor teams and travel teams for all seasons. Even after Yang’s spring kicking showcase, he disappeared for the summer, off with his travel soccer teams. When practice started in the late summer, he had a national tournament that kept him out off practice for much of the first week.
“I was really sort of skeptical about whether he was going to be able to do it,” Crews said. “Then he came out and started kicking every day. He was awesome.
“I talked to him about it, that this is a little bit different from soccer. If you are going to be on the football team you are going to be on the football team and you are going to be our kicker. I told him you may be in some big situations where you will be standing out there in front of six or eight or 10 thousand people and you’ve got to make it.”
So far, he’s made the ones the Broncos needed, hitting a 48-yarder against Alpharetta and a 49-yarder against Norcross in the playoffs. Of his six makes in the postseason, four have been from 40 to 49 yards.
“I love that pressure,” he said.
Yang has yet to kick a game-winner with time expiring and swears he hasn’t thought about it. He doesn’t seem to think too much about kicking. When he watches other football games, he notes the kickers but doesn’t try to pick up tricks. He spends his sideline time talking and stretching, just waiting for some action. And even as the weather has turned cold, the ball has gotten a bit harder and the kicks stopped sailing as far, Yang embraces each moment. He hangs out with his teammates during the school day and relishes the excitement that fills Brookwood’s halls. Football is his sport now.
“I just love it. I am having a lot of fun,” Yang said. “I just love the team. Our team is great. I couldn’t have asked for a better team.”