In a 24-7 Mid-Willamette Conference victory over Crescent Valley on Friday night, Lebanon’s senior High Caleb Christner made his three extra point attempts as well as a 26-yard field goal, threw a shot kick off into the end zone for a touchback and handled the punt duties for the Warriors.
It wasn’t a bad night at work for a football player who had never played football before this season. Christner’s development gave the Warriors (4-4, 4-2) more options in the kicking game than is typical for a high school team.
Lebanon’s first-year head coach Troy Walker wasn’t sure what to think when Christner approached him during practice this summer to talk about playing football and soccer this fall.
“When he came up to me and asked me at the start of the year, I honestly had no idea who he was. I spoke to my staff and they said, ‘He’s good. He can hit it, ”Walker recalls. “He’s been there a few times, and it’s like, ‘We have a gun. “”
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Christner said he started thinking about kicking for the soccer team in his sophomore year. His family hosted an exchange student who was a dedicated football player but was intrigued by his exposure to American football and spoke of wanting to try it.
These conversations marked him and this fall, Christner decided to give it a try.
“I went to train one day and gave it a try, it wasn’t too bad,” Christner said. “Zero training. I play football all year round… I thought it couldn’t be much different. So I just gave it a try and everything went well.
Christner said the football and soccer team coaches made it very easy for him to play both sports and continues to be a key member of the Lebanon men’s soccer team. He’s tied for most goals of the season, with eight, and has five assists for the Warriors.
He appreciated the camaraderie of the football team and said his teammates fully accepted him even though he was of necessity a part-time participant in their training sessions.
“It wasn’t hard to balance at all,” Christner said.
The football team doesn’t have a staff kicking coach this season, so a lot of their learning process has been trial and error. He trains at least once a week with snapper Luke Taylor and holder Nathaniel Gourley.
A few weeks ago Josh Sandberg, a former kicker who has been on the Lebanon coaching staff in the past, came over to train and gave some advice to the kicker unit. Christner said it helped and they’ve been more consistent in the last two games.
“The timing comes pretty quickly. The more you do it, the more you reduce it, ”Christner said.
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Although still a novice in football, Christner brings great leg strength and formidable athleticism to the role. It’s rare in high school football to see kickoffs sent into the end zone for a touchback, but Christner has that ability.
“Anytime I can guarantee the ball will start at the 20-yard line, at the high school level, it’s a rare gift,” Walker said, adding that Christner can also kick a specific spot for one. return if the coaches identify a weakness.
Christner has scored baskets in training from 45 meters. He missed a 41-yard attempt in the Warriors’ victory at Central. The kick had a lot of distance, but he misjudged the wind and pulled it wide.
He also took over the barque duties for the Warriors. The volley kick is a lot like the drop kicks taken by goalkeepers in football, Christner said, and while it’s not his stance, it’s something football players do on a regular basis.
“You’re all life, you do it with friends, you’ve probably let it down a thousand times,” Christner said.
The main difference for him between a kick and a volley kick is personal risk. The kickers are protected but a punter holding the ball may be tackled.
“Punting is definitely more of a sketch for me. I could get tackled. I could absolutely blow myself up, ”Christner said.
It will probably be his only football season. He plans to play Division I soccer and is still discussing his options with various varsity coaches. But he is very happy to have had a taste of football in high school.
“The ‘Friday Night Lights’ experience, I think it’s great,” Christner said. “It’s really fun being in the student section. I was in the student section for three years, went there and watched. But it’s fun to play and everyone is cheering you on. Much more than what you get in high school football.