Among the hallmarks of Jim Rudloff’s 13-year tenure as Marblehead High football coach is the continuing tradition of developing kickers able to lead the squad’s special teams units with confidence.
No Marblehead sports fan will forget senior Eli Feingold’s clinching last-second field goal in the annual Thanksgiving Day game that beat host Swampscott, 31-28, during the team’s Super Bowl-winning year in 2021.
The kicking game can be overlooked, but without a strong one, it could spell the difference between winning and losing games. At the high school level, the same kickers who convert those crucial extra points often also provide a potent leg on punts and kickoffs that can pin the opposition deep in its own territory, changing the complexion of games.
Heading into this past season, the Magicians were in good shape filling Feingold’s shoes with junior Greg Motorny manning that critical position, and Rudloff knows it.
“Greg has a strong leg, and is a good athlete,” the coach said. “But what has been surprising is his success as a punter. He was pretty much forced into being our punter because we had no one else, but he learned that role and slowly made gains to become very good at it.
Rudloff added, “This past season, Greg’s kickoffs were his specialty with that big leg, but as he continues to work on his craft in the off-season, we hope to have him kicking field goals next year too.”
Fitting right in with tradition
While Marblehead didn’t attempt any field goals in 2022, Motorny still handled all the extra points capping his team’s touchdowns in what wound up being a 7-2 overall season, which ended with a 24-20 close decision to Milton in a Division 3 quarterfinal round game.
Since then, Motorny has taken his talented leg national, where he was one of 74 kickers from 25 states to participate in the ninth annual invitation-only Kicking World National Showcase at Austin, Texas on Dec. 3-4.
With the encouragement of his parents, Motorny signed up for Kicking World’s local one-day camp in Chelsea on May 1. He was there with approximately 45 other kickers throughout the state and ended up as one of the two best punters to get that invite to Texas.
Marblehead senior Baxter Jennings also participated in the local showcase and finished second in field goals after grading out at 71 percent, while Motorny ended up at 60 percent with one of his kicks going through the uprights from 50 yards away.
“We first kicked field goals and extra points and then it was time for the punting competition,” Motorny explained. “My best punt was 45 yards with a hang time of 4.6 seconds.”
Austin-bound to compete with his peers
On Day 1 of the national tournament, Motorny came in sixth, averaging 41.8 yards on five punting attempts with a hang time average of 4.34 seconds. His longest punt was 51 yards with a 4.63 hang time.
He then improved his punting by more than 4 yards on average (46) during the second day of competition with an average hang time of 4.56 seconds. He graded out at 89.54 percent to win it all.
“What makes the Day 2 Kickoff and Punt wins so impressive is the nature of how the elimination competitions work,” Kicking World owner Brent Grablachoff said of the national competition.
On Day 1, students get a chance to kick five balls mostly in a row, and later punt five balls also mostly in a row. But on Day 2, students get two attempts to reach a minimum distance/hang time metric, and if they meet it, they might not kick or punt again for 20 to 30 minutes.
Not until most of the field is eliminated will they get to string together a few more kickoffs or punts in a row.
Participants finishing at or near the top on Day 2 means they had the wherewithal, focus and consistency to outlast 70-plus students over a nearly two-hour battle.
“This is so important to convey to college recruiting coaches and special teams coaches as our camps closely mimic an actual in-game environment where kicks and punts may be quarters apart,” Grablachoff said. “Another very important point to note is that at every National Showcase we use brand new footballs, so students don’t get a chance to work in the ball, which keeps the competitions and statistics equitable for all.”
Only the top four continued onto the fifth and final round (44 yard/4.4 seconds metric), and Motorny was the only participant to hit his fifth-round metric to win the competition.
At the start of the 2022 high school football season, Motorny missed four extra points and had two of those blocked.
But after that, he said, “I was more relaxed, and made my kicks.”
Motorny started playing the sport as a fourth-grader in the Marblehead Youth Football League. He was a lineman on both sides of the ball before also becoming a kicker in the seventh grade.
He stopped playing soccer in the sixth grade because, as he put it, “football was more fun, plus I like the physicality of the sport.”
Motorny played baseball until his freshman year and then quit playing basketball this year to get ready for lacrosse. It will be his second year on the team as an attacker.
But football remains No. 1 for him. He practiced with Feingold, his predecessor, last year, and the veteran clutch kicker also offered him some advice.
“You have to learn how to block out all the noise and just concentrate on making your kick,” Feingold told Motorny last year.
In the national tournament, however, winning was less important than simply competing, according to Motorny.
“I just wanted to do my best down there against the most insane group of talented kickers I’ve ever seen,” Motorny said.
Those same kickers are probably saying the same thing about him. But they might be seeing each other again in college. Motorny said he would love to kick for a Division 1 school, and after coming out on top in Kicking World’s punting competition, college coaches are now more aware of his extraordinary skills.