Coaches Corner: What is UGA getting in placekicker Jared Zirkel?
Yesterday, Georgia received its 13th commitment for the 2020 class from placekicker Jared Zirkel of Tivy High School in Kerrville, Texas. UGASports.com spoke with the owner of Kicking World Kicking Camps, Brent Grablachoff, who has been Zirkel’s kicking coach for six years.
UGASports: Having worked with Jared for six years, can you describe his progression since you first saw him as an early middle schooler?
Grablachoff: “Beginning with the first day we worked with Jared, the best way to describe him is having a freakish leg. We knew right away that his leg strength was better than not only every kid his age, but there was no one two or three years older even close to him in leg strength. Still, he was very raw at first. He had played soccer for many years, so he had a lot of work to do fundamentally concerning placekicking.”
UGASports: In regard to his placekicking, did Jared experience a gradual development, or did everything just suddenly click for him one day?
Grablachoff: “I’d say, it took him a couple of years to really hone his craft, or harness his strength. We had to teach Jared not to try to kill every ball with all of his might. The process of getting him sort of dialed-in and ready to kick on a college level was spending a lot of time on his [leg] swing and his flip-the-ball contact because when he first started, he wanted to kick a football like it was a soccer ball. And, there are a lot of similarities, but there are also many differences in kicking a football compared to a soccer ball. Once he started understanding the core competencies of kicking a football versus soccer, it sort of just ramped up quickly from there for him.”
UGASports: What happened which seemingly made Jared’s recruiting suddenly take off?
Grablachoff: “Virtually every single college-run kicking camp Jared attended the last two years, he won the kickoff competition. Also, he made a 59-yard field goal early last season, and that's really what sparked a lot of the recruiting. Later that night, I put a video of it up on YouTube and other places, and all the different recruiting sites started tweeting it out. I feel like that’s what really ramped up stuff pretty quick, because if you can hit a 59-yarder in a game—in a real situation—you know you're good under pressure. Soon after the 59-yarder, Jared and I strategized. We shot off a few emails and messages to a couple of coaches in the D1 space (Division I football) that I had contacts with and immediately drew interest. I did a couple of tweets tagging a few of the coaches with the video, and I think that’s when Coach Fountain (Georgia’s special teams coach, Scott Fountain) caught wind of Jared.”
UGASports: Speaking of Georgia, what was Jared’s attraction to the program, especially considering he’s from Texas?
Grablachoff: “Well, first off, his mom went to Georgia. Also, when he visited there, he really liked the school. And I think, he just had a really good gut feeling when he talked to the coaches. In all of my communications with Jared, he seemed like he really enjoyed meeting with Coach Fountain over all the phone calls and the in-person visits—and they established a really nice connection. He felt like he trusted the Georgia staff, and would enjoy playing for Coach Smart and Coach Fountain.”
UGASports: During the 2017 and 2018 seasons, Georgia had few of its kickoffs returned because of the strong leg of current placekicker Rodrigo Blankenship. Apparently, much of the same could be expected from Jared too, right?
Grablachoff: “I’ll tell you this, one of our most successful students before Jared was Jason Sanders, who kicked at New Mexico before being one of only two kickers selected in the 2018 NFL Draft. Last year, I actually compared Jared's leg strength with Jason's, in that I feel like Jared, as only a high school junior, had as good leg strength, if not better, than Jason when he was a junior in college. And Jason was one of the very best in all of the NCAA his junior and senior years in touchback percentage (ranked No. 1 in 2016 and No. 3 in 2017 in the FBS). Seriously, on kickoffs, I think Jared could very well hang with the best of the NFL kickers right now.”
UGASports: What about off the field? How is Jared as a person and teammate?
Grablachoff: “Even through all his successes, winning all these different kicking camps and competitions, Jared has stayed very humble throughout the entire process. He's very grateful, very polite, very hard working, and he's very, very coachable. So I think with those attributes, he should jive really well with the culture Coach Smart has built. Everything seems amazing over in Athens! I think Jared should jive well in the locker room and with the staff—and I think he will hit the ground running.”