Thames latest in WC’s kicking pipeline

Published 12:00 am Friday, September 5, 2008

Some things are simply synonomous with Warren Central football.

A strong running game. A tough defense. Red pants. And … kickers?

Over the last 25 years, a long line of kickers and punters have passed through Viking Stadium on their way to college stardom. From Sam Thigpen to Mark Haulman, and Will Clark to Eric Richards, WC has had some of the best in the history of Warren County. Six of the top seven players on the county’s career field goals list have worn Warren Central red.

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The latest link in the chain is Jared Thames, who started his senior season on a high note by crushing two field goals and an extra point in last week’s 21-12 Red Carpet Bowl win over Clarksdale.

“Filling Eric’s shoes is my main concern,” Thames said in reference to Richards, now a redshirt freshman at Mississippi State. “Those are some big shoes to fill, too. Extremely big. I think he was a size 13.”

Like most of Warren Central’s kickers, Thames was recruited for the job and groomed to take over later in his high school career. For years, WC’s football coaches have combed the school’s soccer roster to find up-and-coming prospects who can make the transition to football.

Thames and Richards are among a few of the ones who have done it successfully. Sophomore Marlowe Brennan and freshman Desmond Dale will be the next ones in the pipeline after Thames graduates.

“They come to us every year and we try to point out the ones that would make the best kickers,” WC boys soccer coach Greg Head said. “It’s a pretty good relationship. It hurts us a little bit because we don’t have them the first couple weeks of soccer. But anything we can do to help the football team, we’ll do.”

Similarly, WC football coach Curtis Brewer said he tries to be hands-off when it’s time for his kickers to return to soccer. When they’re with the football team, however, they go through the same weightlifting regimen as the rest of the team and get plenty of work during practice.

“A lot of times our kickers are special teams players. That’s all they work on,” Brewer said. “We incorporate kicking drills into our varsity practices, and they work with us on the weights.”

After he made the varsity soccer team as an eighth-grader, Thames was identified as a potential kicker for the football team. His strong leg, if not his skinny 5-foot-10, 170-pound frame, made him an ideal candidate.

“Coach (Bumper) Brogdon asked me to kick. So I tried out and I guess it fell into place,” Thames said.

It took Thames a while to work his way up the ladder, though. His freshman and sophomore seasons, he was stuck behind the rocket-legged Richards on the depth chart.

Richards averaged 45.4 yards per punt his senior season of 2006, and also made 8 of 12 field goals. Most of the misses were long range attempts of more than 40 yards.

Although Thames didn’t get to try much more than the occasional extra point, he said he learned a lot and improved as he watched Richards boom footballs all over Viking Stadium.

“I guess I just lived in his shadow. The guy is a Division I kicker. At practice you feel like you’re not that good, but it pushes you. You want to be as good as he is,” Thames said.

Thames worked hard during his time as an understudy. He went to several kicking camps and came to WC’s practice field every Sunday with his father, Don, to practice. He got pointers from former WC punter John Weaver, now an assistant coach at Tallulah Academy, and Edwards resident Jaret Holmes. Holmes starred at Clinton High and Hinds Community College before going on to Auburn and the NFL.

Thames’ extra work paid off in a solid junior season in which he converted 6 of 7 field goal attempts and 17 of 19 PATs. His effective range is 40 yards and in, but he has kicked a few 50-yarders in camp. He’s hoping for another good season that will allow him to add another piece to WC’s kicking legacy.

In addition to Richards, several former WC kickers have gone on to play on the college level. Haulman punted for Southern Miss, Weaver did the same at Delta State, and others have played on the junior college level.

“If I have a good year, I’m hoping” Thames said. “I’ll go anywhere. I just want to play football somewhere.”