Tuesday, June 28, 2011

In Kansas, man with CP becomes a "kicking guru" to train football players

From The Morning Sun in Kan.

PITTSBURG, Kan. — Not many people know what they want to do for the rest of their lives when they’re 4 years old and not many people get to live it.

Doug Blevins (pictured) knew what he wanted to do when he was 4, just as long as it involved football.

“I've got cerebral palsy and could never play,” Blevins said. “I got interested in football when I was 4 years old. I got involved in a Pop Warner program and a Little League program in my hometown of Abingdon, Va. I started learning from a coaches' perspective. I knew I wanted to work in professional football and do this for a living.

“So, about my 10th grade year of high school, 1978, I began to study kicking because nobody knew anything about it and it led to being my specialty, to a college scholarship and now that's all I've ever done. I wouldn't know how to do a real job if I had one. Football, pro football and college football, have been my entire life.”

According to a 2004 Sports Illustrated article, Blevins was a huge Dallas Cowboys fan, coming of age during the halcyon days of “America’s Team” — Roger Staubach, Bob Lilly, Bob Hayes, Calvin Hill, etc., and head coach Tom Landry. As a kid, he wrote Landry and Staubach letters and they wrote him back, answering his questions, telling him about their lives or the game, wishing him well and sending him signed photos.

Blevins studied kicking like nobody had ever studied the subject. He ordered every tape, every instructional manual and he watched every National Football League kicker on film, especially focusing in on Hall of Fame-caliber kickers like Jan Stenerud and Morten Andersen and what made them successful. Blevins noticed good and bad tendencies and began incorporating his observations into a way to make kickers better at their livelihood.

Overcoming skepticism from management professionals unlikely to hire anybody who’s never played football to instruct their high-paid players, even kickers, Blevins eventually proved himself a guru and established a successful career of his own as kicking consultant.

“I've been with the Miami Dolphins, New England Patriots, Minnesota Vikings, New York Jets, NFL Europe, Arena Football League,” he said. “I've worked personally with Adam Vinatieri of the Colts and previously of the Patriots. We know what Adam did.”

Vinatieri credits Blevins for his kicking success — “I wouldn’t be here without him,” Vinatieri said in Sports Illustrated.

Players like Vinatieri — who kicked two Super Bowl-winning field goals for the Patriots — and Buffalo Bills punter Brian Moorman have given kickers and punters greater credibility in recent years as being “real” football players integral to the game, less associated with images like Miami Dolphins kicker Garo Yepremian’s failed pass in the Super Bowl or the Charlie Brown who never got to kick the ball due to Lucy and her skullduggery.

Never mind that, in 1943, Sammy Baugh led the NFL in passing (23 touchdowns), interceptions (11) and punting (45.9 yard average). Of course, those were the days of two-way and three-way players, not specialization and situational substitutions.

“Kicking is underrated, very overlooked and so forth,” Blevins said. “It's a science because the guys who do it well make it look easy.”

Blevins discovered an unlikely gift and he continues to give back, instructing potentially successful kickers at his kicking camps, which he held for the first time in Pittsburg Thursday-Saturday at Hutchinson Field.

Nine area athletes attended the Saturday morning session and Blevins said there will be a second kicking camp in Pittsburg July 21-23.

“It's been real successful,” Blevins said. “We put it together quickly, in a matter of days. We have some good kids out here. I am real pleased with how the Pittsburg kids have come along. They've been hitting the ball real well.”

Blevins said this was his first visit to Pittsburg and he loves what he’s seen of the town, only encouraging him to hold future kicking camps in town.

“First time I've been here,” Blevins said. “I've wanted to move my business west, to Texas or Kansas because of their high school football and how prominent it is here. This has been fun and gives me a good idea of what I can expect when I move west from Virginia.”

Equipped with the ability to spot kicking talent, Blevins mentioned Pittsburg High School sophomore Zach Stewart and 8-year-old Cruz Blair of Frontenac.

On Stewart: He's an offensive tackle here, a sophomore, and he was saying, 'I can't do this. I can't do this. I can't do this.' Now, today, he's out here crushing the ball. That's what you want to see in a three-day or four-day program . . . to have kids come in and get better. He's done that.

On Blair: He's 8 years old and started hitting the ball yesterday. He's going to be special, a phenomenal kid. A lot of people might say, 'How can you tell?' I've dealt with a lot of young men at that age who are in the National Football League. He's done a great job.

Blevins thinks Stewart could fill the void at kicker for PHS after the graduation of previous kickers Ryan Buckner and Drew Mattson, and he called Blair a kicker with unlimited potential.

On Saturday, it seemed like his instruction was paying off, as kick after kick made their way between the uprights at Hutchinson Field. And, not only those footballs kicked by St. Mary’s Colgan All-State kicker Austin Barone.

“Obviously, at a camp like this, you come in and hit the mechanics, the basics like where the plant foot comes down, the positioning of your body upon contact, the follow through and teaching kids what the objectives are,” Blevins said.