Although the nickname is taken, Dace Bennett could end up with the high school version.
Hall of Fame place kicker Lou Groza was called “The Toe” during his 21-year career with the Cleveland Browns and the annual award for best college place kicker is named after him.
Bennett, a sophomore for Meeteetse High School, has incorporated the rare skill of drop kicking into his game routine, but last Saturday in the Longhorns’ 49-13 loss to Farson-Eden, he also injured his valuable toe.
That is a poor combination and Bennett is being very protective of the little toe on his right foot this week as he recovers from an opponent stepping on it. He limped to the finish and two days later said, “I can walk on it finally.”
This season has been a struggle for the Longhorns, partially because of the ongoing effort to stay healthy with a slim roster.
It is about remaining whole with a 10-man roster in a six-man game and the Farson contest was one where it didn’t go that smoothly.
Besides Bennett, Asa Eldredge and Mickle Ogden (elbow) were less than 100 percent, and Brandon Tew was only available for X amount of Xs and Os.
“I was just glad I was in pads,” said Eldredge, who was supposed to be sidelined with a sprained ankle complementing an injured thumb.
Coach Zeb Hagen thought Eldredge played admirably.
“Asa did play the entire game and though he wasn’t 100 percent he still battled and played well considering,” Hagen said.
Lineman Kaden Redding caught a point-after pass and tried to downplay the injuries.
“We just had a couple of kids with bruises,” said Redding in a brush-it-off analysis.
Ordinarily, defense is a strong point for the Longhorns, but there was some weariness due to player attrition.
“It’s definitely challenging having only 10 guys,” Bennett said.
Bennett threw for 225 yards and both of his touchdowns went to sophomore Kalvin Erickson, who turned in an ESPN-highlight-show-worthy performance.
Erickson caught eight passes for 204 yards, those two touchdowns and on defense was involved in 16 tackles.
“We couldn’t get nearly anything going our way,” Bennett said. “Our defense is definitely the biggest part of our team.”
The drop kick less so. It comes into play after Meeteetse touchdowns instead of booting a traditional extra point or running or passing.
Bennett said he remembers older brother Seth playing around with the weapon when he was in high school.
Also, in 2016, Meeteetse kicker Cole Burbank used the drop kick.
Dace proposed his employment of drop kicks last season when Matt Jensen was coach, but was told no.
“He wasn’t too fond of it,” Bennett said.
Early in pre-season practice this year, he approached Hagen and issued a challenge. “If I can make three in a row can I do it?” he said.
He pulled it off and has hit two in the regular season.
Except for Doug Flutie booting a drop kick in his final game just for kicks in 2006, the drop kick hasn’t been used in the NFL since 1941.
By happenstance, Redding saw a Flutie video.
From a practical standpoint, Bennett said by taking the snap directly he can improvise and change his mind to throw or run. In a victory over Burlington, he did just that, spotting Hadley Abarr open for a passing extra point.
Redding said lining up for a drop kick, especially for six-man, changes the blocking scheme because there is no holder.
“It’s a new formation. Hey, whatever we need to get our kicking game consistent,” Redding said.
Now all Bennett needs is for his “pinky toe” to be 100 percent ready for Friday’s game at Riverside.