Eighth-grade placekickers don’t often make good on 45-yard field-goal attempts the way Luke Eckert did in practice three years ago.
Watching the ball sail through the uprights, Eckert realized his right foot might one day become an asset to the Center Grove High School football program.
And boy, has it ever.
A second-year starter, the junior has produced 88 points in his varsity career — including nine made field goals — entering tonight’s Copper Kettle matchup at defending Class 6A champion Carmel.
“My first year of football wasn’t until seventh grade, and that’s when I became a kicker,” Eckert said. “I had been playing soccer since I was 6 or 7 years old, but kicking a football was different. It just took some time to get used to.”
The host Greyhounds are ranked third in the weekly coaches’ poll, one place ahead of Center Grove.
Carmel fans already have seen more than their share of Eckert, who last November delivered two of the most clutch kicks in program history.
His team trailing the Greyhounds 13-10 late in fourth quarter in last season’s Class 6A finale at Lucas Oil Stadium, Eckert converted a 50-yard field goal — on which the ball hit the crossbar and skipped over — as time expired to send the game into overtime.
One problem. The Greyhounds had signaled timeout. This allowed Eckert a few additional moments of deliberation before trying again.
“His words to me were, ‘I’m going to kick it farther next time,’” Trojans coach Eric Moore said. “And he did.”
Eckert’s second boot didn’t require assistance from the crossbar. It cleared on its own.
“It was kind of breathtaking walking out there,” Eckert said. “When it went through the first time I had the confidence to do it a second time. I remember (now-graduated defensive end) Parker Ferguson walking up to me and talking to me.
“He told me he believed in me, and that helped a lot.”
During the summer, Eckert took part in kicking camps at Purdue University and Warren Central High School. An outstanding student (4.21 grade-point average), he aspires to one day kick on Saturdays as part of a Division I college football program.
Purdue and the University of Cincinnati already have demonstrated interest in Eckert, who as a sophomore recorded 23 touchbacks in 83 kickoffs. This season, he’s averaging 46.9 yards on kickoffs.
Eckert is the latest kicker to excel at Center Grove in Eric Moore’s 19 seasons as coach. The list includes Adam Finley, Ian McGarvey, Mike Wood, Damiano Mancini, Seth Northern and Nathanael Snyder.
“As a sophomore, Luke was probably better than all of them their sophomore seasons,” Moore said. “Right now, in terms of everything I’ve seen, he might be the best kicker we’ve had here going into his junior year.
“Luke seems to thrive in the big moments. Probably his greatest attribute is that he kicks the best at the most important times.”
Perhaps another such moment awaits tonight.
THE ECKERT FILE
Varsity statistics for Center Grove junior kicker Luke Eckert: