Zavala getting his kicks

CCSF freshman finds role, nails field goals that keep unbeaten Rams on course

When talking about football, there is no position more unheralded than kicker.

They are rarely mentioned when discussing a team’s strengths, are hardly noticed by the fans (unless they’re missing kicks) and are generally ignored by everybody save the special teams coach.

Well, after a nail-biting 27-24 victory over then-unbeaten Foothill College, City College of San Francisco certainly appreciates the importance of a capable kicker.

Freshman kicker Philip Zavala nailed two field goals — the first two the Rams had converted all year — proving to be the difference in extending CCSF’s undefeated streak this season to eight games (the host Owls also respect the relevance of field goals — their kicker’s 54-yard attempt hit the crossbar as time expired).

For Zavala, the two field goals against Foothill were a culmination of a season moving up the depth chart.

Initially, punting was Zavala’s sole duty for the Rams, but two weeks ago against Feather River, he started kicking extra points and, finally, against Foothill, he became the team’s field-goal kicker, making him responsible for all the team’s kicking needs.

“We felt like we weren’t getting enough height on our kicks,” said coach George Rush, whose second-ranked Rams (8-0) host sixth-ranked Santa Rosa Junior College (7-1) on Saturday at 1 p.m. “We were getting a lot of kicks blocked at the line of scrimmage. Philip’s kicks go straight up and they have a nice high arc, so it’s a lot more difficult to block them.”

The move up to field-goal kicker was an unexpected twist for Zavala, but one he has taken in stride.

“When I first got here, I thought I was just going to be punting,” Zavala said. “I haven’t changed my preparations that much now that I’m kicking, but I try to stay focused and work hard so when I get out there, I can just block everything out and kick the ball.

“Coach has helped me out a lot in practice, which I think was a big factor in my progress.”

Zavala starred all over the football field for Capuchino High School, playing wide receiver and safety, while also kicking and punting for the Mustangs.

Despite a notable career offensively and defensively, Zavala was well aware that his best options for the future resided in his powerful foot.

“I miss playing out on the field all the time,” said Zavala, who also was a standout soccer player at Capuchino — a key aspect of his kicking development. “But we’ve got the athletes on this team who can play positions like wide receiver and safety, so I know I can help out the team best by kicking for us.”

Zavala, who has nailed two of three field-goal attempts this year and is 11-of-12 on extra points, recently began working with Paul Assad, a Northern California kicking specialist with numerous Division I contacts.

“Kicking is definitely something I want to pursue in the future,” Zavala said. “I’ve still got another year at CCSF, so hopefully I’ll continue to improve and something will work out for me down the road.”

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