Area youth showcase football talents

Jeff Reynolds

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Punt, Pass and Kick Area youths convened at Macomb Junior-Senior High School Saturday afternoon to vie for the title of NFL Gatorade Punt, Pass and Kick champion.Boys and girls between the ages of 8 and 15 were eligible to compete in the contest, with brackets broken up not only in age but also gender.

Those who won their respective age brackets were named regional champions and earned the right to move on to the sectional championship, held in the St. Louis area.

“The location is still unknown right now,” Rachel Smith, superintendent of recreation for the Macomb Park District, said. “They won’t decide on a definite location until all of the regionals are finished.”

Last year, the winners advanced to Arnold, Mo., for the sectional and the finals were held in St. Louis.

“Being in Illinois, the NFL really pushes us to participate through the Chicago Bears organization,” Smith said. “For obvious reasons we choose to be associated with the Rams and their organization.”

Since the Rams make Macomb their summer training camp home, the NFL allows the Macomb Park District to select which team it wishes to name as its facilitator.

The scoring system is based on the distance and accuracy of each participant’s punt, pass and kick. Each person is allowed to make one throw from the goal line, hoping to keep the ball on a straight path and also maximize distance.

For example, a throw that travels 20 yards in the air but lands 15 yards off-line is tallied as a lower score than for a throw which travels 10 yards in a straight line.

The scoring is the same for the punting and place-kicking parts of the event, allowing for one redo if the football falls off the kicking tee or youngsters misplace their drops while attempting to punt the ball.

Past participants include former Buffalo Bills quarterback Jim Kelly, Minnesota Vikings quarterback Randall Cunningham and Dan Marino of the Miami Dolphins.

The Hood family of Macomb, with son Alex and daughter Jaleesa, has made it tradition to claim a regional title.

“We’ve been there the last two years and they both got second place,” father Anthony Hood said. “We’re definitely looking forward to going back.”

Ten-year-old Alex was the first to punt and launched a 38-yard punt that landed just inches from the tape, indicating a straight path of flight. As a quarterback, Hood fared just as well, throwing the ball 10 yards further than the closest competitor. As Alex and his father calmly talked strategy prior to the third and final part of the contest, the kick, they began discussing their return trip to the Gateway City.

“I missed it,” Alex Hood said. “I kind of got it off the left side of my foot instead of the front of my shoe.”

Hood was edged out of first place by best friend David Bryant, who finished with a combined distance of 196 feet to Hood’s total of 185 feet, 7 inches, a difference of just 3 1/2 yards.

The men of the Hood family then turned their attention to 8-year-old Jaleesa, who was matched up against just one other participant.

She finished with a total of 59 feet, 7 inches, more than enough to earn her and Dad a trip to St. Louis this fall.

“Coming up as an 8-year-old, she’s got a lot of potential,” Anthony Hood said. “We’ve got a lot of confidence in her.

She practices all the time and she’ll pull it off.”

In the 8- and 9-year-old boys’ division, Dalton Patrick outlasted Brandon Beck in the closest finish of the day.

Patrick tallied 136 feet, 6 inches to Beck’s 133 feet, 7 inches.

“I did good,” Beck said. “I liked throwing the best.”

In the past, the Leatherneck football team was involved in the contest, assisting with measurements, recording and totaling distances. Due to the sponsorship of the Macomb Park District and MJ-SHS, the Bomber football team assumed the responsibility.

“It was very unique to work with the MHS football team rather than coach (Randy) Ball and the WIU team,” Smith said. “I owe a lot of thanks to Dave Bartlett and the varsity football team.”

This year’s 29 NFL team champions will go on to participate at the NFL Gatorade Punt, Pass and Kick championship, to be held at the site of the AFC championship game in January.

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