"30 Features in 30 Days". "GN" kicker Joe Columbie. Story by John Torsiello.
Joe Columbie kicks one of his four extra points on Saturday during the "GN" 34-33 win over rival Avon. The win leaves the 'Jackets ranked fourth in the Class M state tournament standings with four games left.
By, JOHN TORSIELLO
Joe Colombie had big cleats to step into as he approached his sophomore season as a member of the Gilbert-Northwestern football team.
He was not only replacing a four-year starter and three-time All-Pequot Conference center in Jim Schmitz, he was taking over the place kicking chores that were the bailiwick of John Ambrozaitis, who was All-State in that category last year.
But the youngster has acquitted himself extremely well on both accounts, stepping in and snapping the ball to senior quarterback John Lippincott and becoming a consistent kicker for the 6-1 Yellowjackets, who beat Avon last week to gain the top spot in the West Division of the conference.
In fact, Colombie has made 20-of-25 point-after-touchdown attempts, three of which kicks were blocked and, as head coach Scott Salius says, “not Joe’s fault.” He made 4-of-5 point-after-kicks in the 34-33 win over Avon and every one of them was crucial.
“You figure if Joe misses another point-after-kick in that game Avon goes for the point after when they scored with no time left and us up by a point and they probably make it and win the game instead of trying to win it with a two-point conversion pass,” says Salius.
The coaching staff knew it had a winner on its hands coming into the season. As a freshman, Colombie took over the kickoff chores midway through the season and performed well.
“We were having trouble having kickoffs run back against us and we put Joe in there to squib kick the ball and prevent that from happening,” said Salius. “So he got valuable time on the field as a freshman and he handles that chore very well for us.”
Salius continues, “The big thing we needed from Joe this year was making the point after kicks. He’s been very consistent in that area. We haven’t really been in a situation where we needed him to make a field goal so he hasn’t tried any yet. But he’s working on strengthening his leg and we feel he can give that to us down the road. The big thing for him right now is accuracy and he’s been great at that.”
Colombie has also stepped into the role of center quite nicely.
“You figure Joe is 170 pounds and a strong kid but he’s giving up anywhere from 30 to 50 pounds to the guy opposite him. It says a lot about him as football player that he can handle kicking, which is extreme pressure, and being the starting center, where he is a leader of the offensive line and making calls to adjust the blocking schemes.”
Colombie is also a backup linebacker, although he hasn’t seen much time on defense this season.
“There’s enough pressure on him being the center and kicker so we try and lighten his load a bit and not use him that much on defense,” says Salius, whose team plays host to Enfield this Saturday at 1 p.m. at Van Why Field.
Colombie has been place kicking for about four years.
“I first started kicking when I was in seventh grade, when I played for the New Hartford Wolverines,” he says. “I wasn't very good to start because I didn't have the correct mechanics and I didn't really know how to go about kicking a football. All I knew was what I had learned from soccer,” a sport he played before he began to play football in earnest.
Colombie, who wears number 64, says he has worked extremely hard on improving his kicking technique and leg strength.
“I've made kicking my life ever since I started doing it. I practice in the offseason with field goal posts my dad built me at my house so I can keep improving at it.”
Salius quipped, “Joe tells me that it he makes it through the goal posts from his driveway it’s about a 35-yard kick.”
“The most important thing a placekicker needs is a quick snap and a good hold,” says Colombie. “There are three components that have to work for a field goal and extra point to succeed and without all three, it won't work.”
Colombie is a three-sport athlete, playing basketball and baseball in addition to football and Salius says he’s a standout in each activity.
Colombie, a student at Northwestern High School whose favorite professional player is kicker Rob Bironas of the Tennessee Titans, hopes to continue to improve as a kicker and perhaps even take it to the next level.
“I've looked into kicking in college and even talked to a couple coaches but I'm not sure yet if it's something I want to pursue after high school.”
For now, Joe Colombie is satisfied to be an integral part of the Yellowajckets as they strive for a Pequot title and a berth in the state tournament. If there’s an extra point to be made in a crucial game down the stretch, Salius and the rest of the Gilbert-Northwestern coaching staff know they have just the young man for the job.