Natural born kicker

WOODBRIDGE — Tom Bizzarri didn’t know it at the time, but he became a football player the day he was cut from his club soccer team.

For a kid who had been on traveling all-star soccer teams since he was 9 years old, not making the 16-and-under Prince William Soccer Inc., Spartans was a gigantic disappointment. By the end of the summer of 2000, though, he decided to try out for Hylton’s football team.

And now, in just his second year of organized football, he plays a critical role for the Bulldogs (12-0) as they prepare for a visit to Thomas Dale (10-1) in the Group AAA, Division 6 state semifinals. The 6-foot-4, 260-pound senior made 10 of his 11 extra-point attempts in Hylton’s two regional playoff wins.

“At first, I only played soccer and that was my life,” said Bizzarri, a fullback in his old sport and a kicker/punter/offensive lineman in his new one. “It really did hurt [to get cut] because soccer had meant a lot to me.”

Barbara Weddel — a neighbor and family friend of the Bizzarri’s, as well as an assistant in the Hylton school clinic at the time — deserves an assist in finding a kicker for the Bulldogs. She told coach Bill Brown that Bizzarri might be interested in switching sports.

“I said, ‘Well, he’s obviously a big kid so we’ll find a place for him,’ ” Brown said. “He’s actually a pretty good lineman, but he’s so important to us because he punts, place-kicks and kicks off.”

A month ago, Bizzarri stopped doubling as an offensive lineman. He hurt his right shoulder during lacrosse season, and the Bulldogs’ didn’t want to risk further injury to their one experienced varsity kicker.

In Hylton’s 49-0 rout of Brooke Point in the first round of the playoffs, Bizzarri made all seven of his extra-point attempts, but didn’t punt at all. Last week, he punted four times for a 34.3-yard average with one punt dying at the 10-yard line and one at the eight-yard line. His punts helped Hylton keep the field-position advantage throughout its 35-0 win over George Washington-Danville.

Of Bizzarri’s 35 punts this year, 13 have rested inside the opponents’ 20-yard-line. But for a team that scores mostly touchdowns, he has tried just three field goals — and made two of those. Last year’s postseason was even less demanding on the kicking game as Hylton lost 42-0 to Deep Creek in a state semifinal.

But as is the case with any kicker, Bizzarri has to be ready. “As soon as we got in the playoffs is when it first entered my mind that I could have an important kick coming up,” he said. “In the regular season, the competition was hard but we’re a strong team and our offensive line usually takes us in the end zone.”

Thomas Dale’s coming off a 15-14 win over previously unbeaten Varina, and Deep Creek and Robinson also have made the state semifinals in impressive fashion. The competition should get tougher. And if that kick happens to come up, Brown will definitely feel more confident in Bizzarri than he would have last year.

“He went to Virginia Tech’s kicking camp and that helped him a lot,” said Brown, who does most of the coaching when it comes to Hylton’s kicking game. “With kickers, though, it takes a special kind of coaching. You have to stay out of their head a little bit; you’ve got to keep building their confidence.

“When things are going bad, your natural reaction is to bark — and that’s usually the worst thing you can do.”

By keeping the barking at a minimum, Brown has found a kicker who says he’s comfortable trying 35-40 yard field goals. Bizzarri, who hopes to attend Virginia Tech or possibly play club lacrosse at Georgia Tech, is more accustomed to the long snaps of Silas Hall and the holds of Chaz Davis. Plus there’s a big difference between Bizzarri now and the novice who showed up at Hylton practice about 16 months ago.

“The first kick I ever did, I hit the snapper in the back of the head,” Bizzarri said. “Ever since then, I’ve been pretty good.”

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