Splitting the uprights...

Richlands placekicker Levi Forrest (33) kicks a practice field goal  at Ernie Hicks Stadium on Thursday while holder Will Tarter (1) watches the ball’s trajectory approvingly.

RICHLANDS — Levi Forrest isn’t the most prolific placekicker in Richlands High School Football history. But he probably will be.

The Blue Tornado’s 6’5”, 160-pound special teams asset enters the 2018 gridiron with a single-minded focus on performing his role to the best of his abilities.

“Especially after last season — the first losing season since 1999. Expectations are really up for this year,” said Forrest.

Expectations are similarly up for Forrest, who may be the only kicker in Four Seasons Country who rates a name recognition on par with the region’s top offensive skill players.

Forrest, in fact, was one of the first returning players Richlands head coach Greg Mance talked up during Thursday’s football media day at Ernie Hicks Stadium.

“We’ve got Levi Forrest, an all-state kicker returning. The kid is exceptional. He’s (an NCAA Division I) kicker, without a doubt. The kid will do great things before he leaves here and break every record,” said Mance.

“For scoring, he’s probably real close. He will own it this year. After his third year he’ll own every record here as a kicker. For distance ... He’s got a 48 yard field goal on a free kick. I feel strongly that he’ll break that this year,” the Richlands head coach said.

“Kicking is a little different thing from a tailback or quarterback, but he’s got a lot of people interested. I know that Wake Forest is real interested. He’s a special kid,” Mance said.

As a freshman, Forrest accumulated 79 points kicking for the Blues en route to a 2A state semifinal finish. Last season he only had 32 points — a reflection of diminished point-after-touchdown opportunities more than any deviation on his own part. This season, overall offense is expected to be closer to the Richlands norm. He should flourish.

In the Tornado’s recent Blue and White scrimmage, Forrest wowed the Ernie Hicks faithful with a 57-yard field goal. This is a very good sign, given that he is coming off an ugly ankle injury he suffered this past spring in a regular season soccer match with Graham.

“I tore everything in my right ankle,” said Forrest, who subsequently missed the remainder of his sophomore soccer season.

““I was invited to a (football kicking) camp at Wake Forest by their coach. But I couldn’t go to the Wake Forest camp because of my injuries. I was still on crutches,” said Forrest, who has been kicking in football camp without a brace.

Now he’s off of crutches and back on his game.

“The doctor said I’d be fine ...actually more than fine to play without a brace during the season,” Forrest said.

During ideal conditions, he’s an every-minute player for the ambitious Richlands boys soccer team. But those reserves of endurance and mobility rarely get called upon for football.

Even after last year’s historic losing season, more than 70 kids turned out for the Blue Tornado this August. A dedicated kicker is a luxury for most 2A football teams in Virginia. But it’s a luxury Richlands can still afford.

Full-time kickers have reputations for being the most eccentric and free-spirited of any position in football, but that’s a perception that is often exaggerated by circumstance. Unlike soccer, a sport in which Forrest is fully engaged with his teamates during games and practice, football compels him to spend a great deal more time in isolation.

“During football practice, I don’t really run routes or anything. At the end of practice, sprints and stuff, I do all that with them. Sometimes I’ll run laps during practice when it’s cold, to stay warm and stuff,” said Forrest.

“Mainly I just go to the other side of the field and kick field goals, kickoffs and punts. There’s not as many reps with the team,” he said.

The other players with whom he has the most interactions are Will Tarter — who has been his holder since his freshman season — and deep snappers Bowen Tarter and Trey Brown. And he only deals with them on a relatively limited basis.

“The only time we get to practice together is during full special teams during practice. Besides that, it’s just kind of winging it for the game, I guess,” Forrest said.

He will probably also handle punting duties for the Blue Tornado this season, even though he deems himself to be a less effective punter than he is a placekicker. That’s like, his opinion, man. Practically speaking, last year’s 40.6 yard per kick average is nothing to sneeze at. Neither is the season-high 79-yard punt he recorded.

He feels that punting is certainly more pressure-fraught than PATs and field goals. There is more margin for disastrous errors on punts, he said.

Whatever kicking role his team requires of him in whatever game situation, Forrest is focused on giving the Blues his best shot. If it means staying in his ‘happy place’ or being in his own little world, so be it. He can always look forward to being a more gregarious team player on the soccer squad next spring.

“Whatever season it is, that’s the sport I’m concentrating on fully,” Forrest said. “Out of football, I’m a lot more into soccer. Out of soccer— I’m all football.”

 — Contact Thwaites at gthwaites@bdtonline.com

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