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Cape Fear kicker ‘like an explosion’ on the field as leader in scoring

A novice at football, Garcia-Rodriguez steps into scoring role


Clint Eastwood starred in a movie called “Trouble With the Curve,” in which he played an aging baseball scout losing his vision who relied on the sound of the ball coming off the bat to know if a young prospect was pro material.

Jake Thomas coaches football, not baseball, at Cape Fear, but he was impressed with the sound of the ball coming off the foot of kicking prospect Francisco Garcia-Rodriguez.

Almost halfway through the 2023 football season, that sound has turned into music to Thomas’ ears.

“It’s like an explosion,” Thomas said. “It just sounds different.”

Through four games, Rodriguez finds himself among the Top 10 in kick scoring in the United 8 athletic conference, the only kicker who is ranked that high.

He’s 5-for-5 on field goals and 14-for-14 on extra points, with 29 total points for the season.

Last week in a 36-14 win over Purnell Swett, Garcia-Rodriguez hit field goals of 42, 32, 25 and 20 yards. He also put four kickoffs into the end zone.

Thomas said the Colts had no kicker the first couple of weeks of August practice, until former Cape Fear principal Lee Spruill told him about seeing Garcia-Rodriguez kick for the soccer team.

“He’d never kicked a football,” Thomas said. “He’s got such incredible leg strength. Once he fine-unes his technique and works on that a little bit, he’s going to be special.”

For now, the football team gets to see Garcia-Rodriguez only about 20 minutes a week when he stops by after soccer practice. Assistant coach Chris Hall works with him on the basics of kicking.

Garcia-Rodriguez was also able to make a trip to Charlotte, where he had a session with former Minnesota Vikings kicker Dan Orner, who offers lessons coaches kickers and punters. Thomas said they are still looking for someone local with more expertise who can work regularly with Garcia-Rodriguez.

Garcia-Rodriguez is still learning some of the basics of football. In one game, Thomas said, he didn’t wait for the rest of the team and just kicked the ball. “It ended up not mattering,” Thomas said, as the ball went into the end zone.

He said the longest kick Thomas has seen Garcia-Rodriguez make was a 45-yarder in practice.

He’s had no problem being accepted by the team.

“The guys love him,” Thomas said. “When he first came out, he was kind of unsure. He was doing it because we asked him to come out.

“The guys want him there. He can help us. He’s embraced it and we’ve embraced him.”

Garcia-Rodriguez said his parents are from Mexico but he has lived in America his whole life, spending his time in Harnett and Cumberland counties.

He never expected that kicking a football would be that big a deal for him, and he said he’s only had to make minor adjustments in the way he approaches the ball to go from soccer to football.

“I’ve been a little surprised,” he said of his success kicking a football. “I haven’t tested my leg to full capacity.”

He thinks he can increase the distance of his kicks with practice.

For Garcia-Rodriguez, making a field goal is largely mental.

“I really concentrate, block everything out, and just focus on it,” he said.

He hasn’t set any goals as a kicker for now. He’s happy to keep doing it for the Colts and see where it takes him. If he gets a college offer down the road, he’ll be glad to consider it, he said.

“I didn’t think something would actually come from it,” he said.

Earl’s Pearls

  • One of the byproducts of the N.C. General Assembly’s meddling in the rules of the state high school athletics association is already beginning to show, and it’s not good.

In one of its actions earlier, the legislature forced the N.C. High School Athletic Association to cut the penalty for being ejected from a contest for fighting from missing two games down to one.

Through Sept. 14 of this season, ejections have shown a sharp increase. A total of 156 athletes and seven coaches have been ejected from high school contests.

The number of fighting ejections tops the list with 67, all athletes. 

  • I don’t normally write about middle school athletics, but today I’m taking a brief departure from that to recognize longtime Mac Williams coach Mike Bieniek, who is stepping down after nearly 30 years as a teacher and coach.

Bieniek has raised in quite the athletic family to go with his years at Mac Williams. His daughter Brooke Bieniek was an state doubles tennis champion for Cape Fear, and his younger daughter Shea is a current member of the team.

  • It’s a little difficult these days to report on changes being announced by the NCHSAA because of the fear it will do something the state legislature doesn’t like and it will get banned a few days later.

In that vein, I’ll still report the announcement made during regional meetings this week of changes coming to some NCHSAA sports during the coming school year.

Women’s wrestling is now a full-fledged state championship sport. Regionals for the ladies will be Feb. 2-3, 2024, with regionals set for the Mideast, Midwest, West and East. Jack Britt High School could be a candidate for the Mideast Regional.

The state championship will be held in conjunction with the men’s wrestling finals. Women’s wrestling will join 1-A, 2-A, 3-A and 4-A boys at the Greensboro Coliseum Feb. 15-17.

  • After a lot of complaints about the sites that were used last year and some fans being turned away, the regional and state basketball finals are undergoing a major overhaul.

The tentative plan is to hold the regional finals and state championship the week of March 11-16. There will be four games a day for regionals Monday through Thursday. State finals will be held on Friday and Saturday.

This will require some games during the school day, something many other states are already doing.

It was noted the state of Georgia plays its state football championship games at 10 a.m.

The probable site for the regionals and state finals is Lawrence Joel Coliseum in Winston-Salem.

  • The shot clock remains a concern for a lot of coaches, but an NCHSAA ad hoc committee will present a report in December that says it’s unlikely the state will add the clock in basketball.

Only 20 states are using the shot clock now, a number that will rise to 27 by 2024-25.

The main problem remains cost, which is an average of $5,000 per school. There are other issues to consider, like having to tear up the gym floor to install the wiring, along with connecting the shot clock to an existing clock. That problem is complicated if the current clock in a school is older than 2018.

Another challenge is training someone to operate the clock and paying them.

If the shot clock is ever approved, it will be phased in over a multiyear period.

This week’s picks

Monday high school football games are a pain for everybody and, unfortunately, Cumberland County had to deal with them earlier this week because of last week’s foul weather.

At the end of a long football weekend, I had a respectable record of 6-2, putting the season total at 28-11, 71.%.

  • E.E. Smith at Harnett Central: The Golden Bulls have to deal with playing twice in a week, which is not helpful … Harnett Central 28, E.E. Smith 12.
  • Terry Sanford at Pine Forest: Terry Sanford appears headed back in the right direction … Terry Sanford 22, Pine Forest 14.
  • Lumberton at South View: This should be an easy one for the Tigers … South View 40, Lumberton 8.
  • Cape Fear at Seventy-First: Game of the week, for sure. The Colts will be hard-pressed to outscore the Falcons … Seventy-First 29, Cape Fear 10.
  • Westover at Triton: Difficult road trip for the Wolverines … Triton 30, Westover 12.
  • Purnell Swett at Jack Britt: The Buccaneers should get another win … Jack Britt 31, Purnell Swett 7.
  • Gray’s Creek at Douglas Byrd: The Bears pick up another victory … Gray’s Creek 29, Douglas Byrd 8.

Follow Earl Vaughan Jr. on Twitter: @EarlVaughanJr.

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Fayetteville, Cumberland County, football, sports