Hernandez enjoying new role as kicker for Mason football team

Andrew Little | The Chronicle

Jacob Hernandez attempts a point against Lakota East.

Like most teenagers, Jacob Hernandez listened to his mom. When his mother told him he could not play football when he was younger he opted to play soccer to stay active. Mom approved. But Hernandez still entertained thoughts of one day playing football like his dad did when he was in high school.

Hernandez, a senior on the men’s soccer team, finally got the chance to play football when he was encouraged to reach out to Mason head football coach Brian Castner about trying out as kicker. Now Hernandez has earned a starting role as the team’s placekicker while still managing to play on the state-ranked varsity soccer team.

“With soccer, I thought I could go out and kick [for football] because my legs are already pretty decent,” Hernandez said. “I was watching NFL with my dad and thought, maybe I should kick. Why not have fun in my senior season and join an extra sport?”

Hernandez thought kicking for the football team would be a great backup plan if he didn’t make the soccer team. He made it, but still wanted to pursue foot- ball. At the same time head boys soccer coach Nate Baer had a conversation with Castner regarding potential kicker candidates from the soccer team. Hernandez arranged a face-to-face meeting with Castner who was impressed with his positive attitude. After working with Baer to create a schedule that could accomadate each sport, Hernandez decided he could do both. The Comets’ newest kicking recruit said he would not be able to balance both sports without the support and flexibility of Baer.

“[Coach Baer] has been very supportive,” Hernandez said. “He’s been very lenient about my practices and how much I can attend soccer.”

Baer hopes to develop a pipeline of soccer players kicking for the football team and Hernandez’s team first approach and passion for made him an ideal candidate.

In addition to support from coaches, Hernandez has found his decision embraced by both sets of teammates. When the soccer team learned that Hernandez would be kicking for the football team, they shared his enthusiasm and went out of their way to encourage his pursuit of both sports.

“They’ve been very supportive,” Hernandez said. “They have been really excited to hear that I’ve started to kick. When I told them I was going to be starting at home [against Lakota East], they said, ‘we’re all going to the game, we’re gonna be pumped and excited for you.”

Co-special teams coordinator Brandon Sethi is one of the coaches that works with the kickers. Three kickers hungry for playing time on Friday nights has led to healthy competition and allowed for all three to improve. Sethi said they have created an environment where everyone is supportive and sees them cheer each other on in practices.

“We have three competitors at that spot but there has not been any animosity,” Sethi said. “It’s been positive and welcoming with a recognition that it’s a team game.”

Even though Hernandez has a strong leg from his soccer experience, kicking a football is much different from kicking a round soccer ball. Working with the other kickers and coaches has made Hernandez more comfortable. He said he believes as his technique improves, his range will naturally increase, ultimately benefiting the team.

“The first week I didn’t really know how to kick the ball, I just kicked it like a soccer ball and that’s not how you want to kick a football,” Hernandez said. “It didn’t look pretty coming off the foot, didn’t feel great, and wasn’t going very far. Now the ball is coming off my foot a lot better, and it’s more [accurate].”

Hernandez got his first in-game playing opportunity in a 40-7 win over Middletown. After observing from the sidelines in two prior games, he converted on three of his four point-after-attempts. Since then Hernandez has made all but two kicks. Whether he’s competing on the soccer pitch or teeing it up for the football team, Hernandez is focused on enjoying himself and being a positive presence for his teammates.

“It’s pretty much all about having fun,” Hernandez said. “That’s the reason why I joined the team. Why not just have some fun and see where it goes.”

Photo contributed by Lily Haller