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Grades crucial to team

By mrasor Published: April 10, 2007


In part two of Vincent Dorsey's series about what it's like to be a UA athlete, he shows the importance coach Dennis Mitchell puts on academics.

  • The Buchtelite's Tony Bosma also wrote about the Zips' wild weekend in two different locales.


I wrote about the crazy year former kicker Jon McClain has had.

I'll post it below...

Jon McClain is a football player. Or is it futbol?

Two weeks ago, McClain had his sights set on finishing his finance degree at the University of Akron, then trying out for a professional soccer team.

Friday night, he stood before hundreds of fans, kicking field goals and extra points for the Canton Legends of the American Indoor Football Association.

McClain must have felt like Bill Murray in Groundhog Day.

This has happened before, right? Yep.

Akron football coach J.D. Brookhart recruited McClain from the men's soccer team to kick extra points and field goals in midseason.

Heading into his senior year of at Wayne High School near Dayton, McClain was getting attention from Notre Dame, Georgia Tech and Ohio State for his football skills. Then he got sick with mono. Then he mysteriously suffered nerve damage to his kicking leg.

Poof! There went the recruiters and talk of scholarship offers. And he was left with soccer, which wasn't all bad. By the end of his career, McClain had earned all-conference and all-region honors on the Zips soccer field.

But that career took a bizarre twist in September when McClain put on shoulder pads for the first time since high school. Brookhart asked soccer coach Caleb Porter to send over a handful of potential kickers to take the spot of struggling Matt Domonkos, who had missed four extra points in as many games.

Being a former top-tier high school kicker, McClain earned a spot on the team.

Brookhart admitted he had never heard of such a tryout - or even a player double dipping in two college sports in the same season.

"In high school it's pretty common, but not in college," he said.

Brookhart's unorthodox plan worked. The same week of the tryout, McClain drilled his first extra point against Kent State. He finished the year making nine of 11 extra points and four of six field goals.

"He was quiet, reserved, but the players took to him right away," Brookhart said.

Even Domonkos befriended the man who assumed his job.

"Matt was really supportive of me," McClain said. "I know it must have been hard for him."

The real story, however, is how McClain played two sports at the same time.

"It was impossible," McClain said, laughing. "I was going from practice to class to everywhere."

Hey, UA students, imagine juggling your finance classes with any sport. Then add another sport to your agenda. Now you realize that your class schedule comes in direct conflict with football practice.

"I tried not to skip, but I had to do it sometimes," McClain said.

(Jon, I think your professors understood.)

After football season, McClain decided to finish his degree and shoot for professional soccer. After all, that's the sport in which he had built such a sterling reputation over the past four years.

Then came another one of these bizarre twists to which McClain should be accustomed by now.

The Canton Legends parted with their kicker after he missed a plane to an important game - a game that broke the team's 12-game winning streak. A decent kicker would have won it for them.

Much like the Indianapolis Colts, who sought relief from their "idiot kicker" Mike Vanderjagt, Legends coach Bobby Olive went looking for an Adam Vinatieri. Bill Morgan, who works as a play-by-play announcer for both the Legends and the Zips, suggested the coach give McClain a shot.

Because players are paid $300 for a win and $250 for a loss, it wouldn't be a full-time job. McClain is enrolled in classes at UA this semester. He agreed to give it a shot.

The 5-foot-8, 140-pound former Zip outperformed the other tryout participants and won the starting gig for Canton.

"Jon's pure leg strength was the major factor," Olive said.

Once again, it was just days after the tryout that McClain aced his first extra point.

Chalk it up as another eccentric strategy that paid off.

McClain's kicking style suits the AIFA well, team owner Joe Hoffman said. The team plays at the Canton Civic Center, where the rafters and scoreboard hang fairly low. Players with high trajectory on their kicks tend to sense rejection with a loud "thud."

"McClain has a very strong, line-drive kick, so that works for him," Hoffman said. "He has been a good addition."

In two games, McClain has drilled five of six extra points, made his only field goal attempt and even converted a "rouge," which awards a team one point when a kicker sends the ball through the uprights on a kickoff.

Not bad, considering the goal posts are nine feet apart, unlike 18 feet in college.

Despite the success, McClain's plans have not changed. He says he still wants to pursue soccer professionally.

Regardless, Brookhart adores that his former Bo Jackson is continuing his career.

"It's great," Brookhart said. "The kid has a love for football."

Or is it futbol?

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