Jacob Ballain vividly recalls how he was drawn to football.
A lifelong soccer player, he remembers attending an Indianapolis Colts game with his family and watching kicker Adam Vinatieri and punter Pat McAfee boom kicks during warmups.
Impressed, fascinated and inspired, Ballain — then a middle-schooler — turned to his dad and said, “You know what, I bet I can do that.”
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Turns out he could.
A four-year starter on the Whiteland Community High School football team, Ballain handles all kicking chores for the Class 5A No. 6 Warriors (7-2).
Not only that, he applies his craft with laser efficiency.
One of the area’s top overall performers, the 5-foot-11 senior has converted 8 of 13 field-goal attempts and 30 of 31 PAT tries. He averages 54.8 yards on kickoffs, has 15 touchbacks and averages 34.3 yards per punt.
Beyond the numbers, he regularly delivers directional punts and kickoffs — the type that lower averages but benefit the team — as the Warriors need.
Not bad for a former soccer player who had never played football until winning the varsity place-kicking job as a freshman.
“It’s been consistent improvement for Jacob,” Warriors coach Darrin Fisher said. “He’s a guy that consistently is working on the little things, his ability to do all the things a specialist needs to be able to do to make a team better, (and) not just worry about my stats or how far I can kick it.
“He’s been very unselfish. He’s been a great team guy.”
A soccer player since elementary school, Ballain gave that sport up after his freshman year at Whiteland. He did so to concentrate solely on football, a decision that has paid dividends for himself and the Warriors.
By focusing on football, he has evolved into a college prospect and has, more importantly for Whiteland, become the sort of specialist who is a literal game-changer.
For example, after missing several games his sophomore season with a torn hamstring, he returned in time for the sectional-opener and booted a game-winning field goal against Franklin.
More recently, in the Oct. 16 regular-season finale at Greenwood, with the Mid-State Conference championship on the line, Ballain booted critical field goals of 32 and 21 yards to help lift the Warriors to a 19-14 win.
Not surprisingly, the Warriors aren’t bashful about unleashing their kicker when drives stall deep in an opponent’s territory. He has a season-long effort of 44 yards.
“He’s a huge part of our gameplan, knowing if we get in the red zone we’re going to get points,” Fisher said. “That’s a big thing to be able to rely on, to know if you get in the red zone you’re going to score some points.”
Although he misses soccer, Ballain has no regrets about sticking with football. He has played an important role in a winning program and has drawn interest from college programs, including Purdue.
Moreover, he’s having fun.
“I like scoring points for my team. I like being able to majorly impact the game,” Ballain said. “I love the game, too.”
Whiteland’s next game is tonight’s sectional semifinal at No. 2 Columbus East (10-0).
Although the order is tall, Ballain is confident the Warriors are more than up to the challenge.
“We’re confident but not cocky. We know we can get the win,” he said. “We know it’ll be a hard battle, but we know we can beat them.”
Jeffersonville at Center Grove, 7 p.m.
Whiteland at Columbus East, 7 p.m.
Greenwood at Northview, 7 p.m.
Roncalli at Lebanon, 7 p.m.
Batesville at Indian Creek, 7 p.m.