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Kicking, the habit

October 31, 1998|By RON SOMERS / Herald-Mail Sports Editor

Kicking, the habit

Williamsport senior performs double duty

Once upon a time, kickers used their toe to boom the ball through the uprights.

Then, slowly but surely, came the invasion from Europe, from South America, from Africa of the soccer-style kickers. They were little guys with unpronouncable names. They kicked with the side of their foot, and often knew as much about football as the typical 300-pound lineman knew about soccer.

Nowadays, everybody kicks soccer style, and Americans are once again kicking field goals and extra points. Nowadays, if a high school or college football team wants a strong placekicker, it looks to its soccer team.

That's why it's totally logical that Williamsport High's place kicker is its best soccer player - Matt Bowman.

"He never played football in his life,'' said Bowman's father, Joe.

But the non-football-playing Bowman has turned out to be a key offensive weapon for the Wildcats, not only on the pitch but on the gridiron.

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"He's been a big help,'' said Williamsport football coach Eric Michael. "You don't have to worry. You would score (a touchdown) and then wonder what was going to happen.

"But with Matt it's pretty much automatic you're going to get the point-after.''

With Bowman, Michael has an extra option if the offense bogs down.

"If we're at the 20-yard line, he's going to get us the three,'' Michael said. "It's a real luxury to have.''

Bowman is more than a luxury for the Wildcats soccer team. He's the key element of the offense. After 13 games, Bowman led Tri-State scorers with 26 goals. He has 60 goals in four years.

"I don't think he's overly fast or overly quick,'' said Williamsport soccer coach Stan Stouffer. "He's smart; he's got a good touch on the ball.''

Bowman takes the success of his multiple kicking jobs in stride. Despite the glory of scoring points in football, he's not all that keen on it.

"I like soccer and baseball better,'' he said.

Playing second base for the Wildcats last year, Bowman, a senior this year, set a school record with nine home runs. He hit a big one to win a playoff game against South Hagerstown.

Oh, and by the way, Bowman also plays basketball and was the Wildcats' leading scorer last season.

"But that's my least favorite sport,'' he said.

It's not that football doesn't provide thrills for Bowman. He kicks off for Williamsport, and on three occasions this season has found himself the last man between the returner and the end zone.

"It was like an adrenaline rush. I prevented TDs in each case,'' Bowman said, sounding almost surprised that he was able to make like a "real" football player and wrestle opponents to the ground.

His tackles and his sideline demeanor in football games make him unlike those early foreign kickers.

"He has not shied away from contact,'' said Michael. "He's into the game. He's not on the sideline as a spectator. He's real encouraging to the guys on the sideline.''

But kicking footballs is just, well, a sideline for Bowman.

"He's just dabbled at it,'' Michael said, adding that Bowman probably would be good enough to kick for a college program such as Shepherd College.

"A couple of schools have contacted me about football, but I'm not really interested,'' Bowman said.

He's going for the soccer-baseball combo, figuring football-soccer won't work at the collegiate level.

It has at the high school level. Stouffer said he has no problem with Bowman taking off from soccer practice for 15 minutes or so a couple times a week to boom field goals.

Stouffer, Michael, Williamsport athletic director Curtis Graff, principal Roger Giles and Bowman all signed a contract allowing Bowman to play both sports. The deal stipulated that if there were a conflict, soccer would prevail.

Stouffer said he jokes with Michael about it, though, saying, "If you get my top scorer hurt, you better hide.''

Stouffer said back in the 80s he offered some of his players to the football team as place kickers. But the coach back then, a bit of a traditionalist, turned him down.

Michael wasn't about to do that. He likes those PATs and three-pointers.

And Bowman can't kick about that, either.

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