GLENS FALLS — The best weapon for the Glens Falls football team’s defense is not a player who makes many tackles or interceptions.
He’s the solitary figure on the practice field, making most of his impact with his right foot.
Most of the time, Sam Hogan is blasting kickoffs to — and sometimes through — the end zone. And when that happens, Indians’ opponents are left looking at 80 yards of real estate to cover in order to score.
While a stellar athlete like quarterback Joseph Girard III provides the flash and points, the Indians can win the battle for field position because of Hogan.
“Kickoffs are huge, I personally think that takes more precedence over PATs and field goals,” said Hogan, Glens Falls’ senior placekicker and punter. “It sets a huge tone when the other team has to drive 80 yards every single time. That helps our team a lot.”
“It’s such an advantage to have someone who can consistently get touchbacks,” Indians head coach Pat Lilac said. “Most teams start with the ball outside their own 30. To have the other team have to go 80 yards, that’s like two or three more first downs (they need to make). It’s huge.”
Hogan was the hero of last year’s Class B sectional championship, kicking the tying and winning field goals at the end of regulation and in overtime, respectively, of a 40-37 victory over Schuylerville.
Hogan regards his 33-yard field goal to tie the game as bigger than the 39-yarder that won the game.
“The one to go to overtime, I think that was more important — because if we miss the overtime one, we could just go back and play defense again,” Hogan said. “Personally when I was going through that, I may be harder on myself now because I realize the stakes. But at that point, it was just, ‘I’m kicking this ball.’
“The game-winner, we had the wind coming at our faces, so the ball went up and it looked pretty good, but all of a sudden it hit this wall of wind and it came straight down,” he added. “So I remember getting tackled by all my players, I’m like ‘Hold up, wait.’ It was a little nerve-wracking — sometimes you’ve got to talk it in.”
At 6 feet, 165 pounds, Hogan is lean and athletic. He’s also a rarity in high school football, at least in most of New York — a pure kicker, one that does not play soccer or another football position.
He also has three Division I football offers — from Utah State, Cornell and the University at Albany.
“He’s a talented athlete, not just a kid kicking a football,” Lilac said. “He’s got a powerful leg and he has the ability to place it, too.”
Hogan started out as a soccer player, playing high-level club soccer with Black Watch Premier in Albany, but transferring from Hudson Falls to Glens Falls in ninth grade changed his athletic life.
“They told me that I couldn’t play the same sports that I played at Hudson Falls the next year,” he said. “So I couldn’t play soccer for one year, but I actually never ended up going back to soccer.”
Soccer’s loss was the Indians’ gain on the football field. His first JV kickoff went for a touchback.
As a sophomore, he was brought up to varsity as the backup to regular kicker Andrew Stamatel, who was also the soccer team’s goalie.
Since last season, Hogan has been booting away, consistently making extra points and field goals — and putting the ball in the end zone for touchbacks.
“Touchbacks are a weird thing — a lot of it is technique, but also how quick your leg can snap to the ball, rather than power,” Hogan said. “Two years ago, I weighed 130 and I was just getting to the point where I could hit a touchback every once in a while.”
Hogan began attending college kicking camps and working on his technique, which improved his distances beyond even putting on the 30-35 pounds that put more mass behind his kicks.
“It’s almost like a golf swing — you have to be fluid with the ball and swing your leg normally,” he said. “A lot of it is driving through and driving downfield after you swing through. It’s like a baseball swing, you have to follow through — it really propels the ball up into the air.”
He’s not afraid to cover on kickoffs and punts, either. He’s more than willing to take down a return man.
“I actually had a tackle last week kicking into the wind against Burnt Hills,” he said. “I have two assists and a forced fumble this season.”
Hogan has made field goals from eye-popping distances — 68 yards is his longest — with the videos to back it up. Of course, those are practice field goals using a tripod holder, without an opposing team’s rush or football pads and helmet.
“One thing I focus on is it’s the same kick no matter how far you are out,” he said. “If you’re 60 yards out or 20 yards out, you’re kicking the same kick — your leg swing doesn’t change, you stay the same speed, still swinging through.”
The same approach applies in punting, too.
“You can turn a bad punt into a good punt and a good punt into a great punt just by following through and locking your foot out,” he said. “To me, punting and touchbacks are much more important than a PAT — flipping the field is huge, especially in high school.”
Hogan spent a good chunk of his summer traveling to kicking and punting camps at Utah State, Wyoming and Michigan State, and he works with kicking coaches, as well.
College camps are vital when it comes to being recruited as a kicker, Hogan said. In addition to his three offers, he’s been getting looks from D-I schools across the country.
“A lot of times coaches will tell you, ‘You have to come to camp, we want to see you live in person,’” he said. And though he has sent out his share of videos, he added, “They prefer game film because it’s a lot different kicking off a finger and an in-place stick, (with) no pads and helmets, too.”
Hogan, who is planning to major in computer science, said schools don’t usually sign kickers until February or March of their senior year.
For now, though, Hogan hopes to experience kicking in the Carrier Dome on Thanksgiving weekend.
“The ultimate goal is to get back to the Dome,” he said.