ST. GEORGE — On any given Friday night, people funnel into a high school football stadium in St. George to see names like Macloud Crowton, Reggie Graff, Jace Mortensen or Kinalea Taufa, to name a few. All the attention is on the big name players in Region 9, but quietly on the Pine View sideline sits the second ranked points scoring kicker in the country, according to maxpreps — AJ McCarroll.
McCarroll has scored 73 points as a kicker this season and plays a big role for the Region 9 champion Pine View Panthers.
Special teams players usually don’t get the attention that other players do, even though they can make or break a game for a football team.
“Being a kicker is like being the unsung hero,” McCarroll said. “When you go out there, nobody really notices until it’s the big kick of the game.”
McCarroll said Pine View puts a major emphasis on special teams and being the kicker for the Panthers has been a blast.
“They don’t treat me as someone lower just because I’m a kicker,” McCarroll said. “We all treat each other same, we’re all family, we’re all brothers in arms on this field, and if one of us goes down, we’re right there to pick them up.”
Kicking is all mental — McCarroll stresses that kickers can’t think about anything as they’re preparing for any kick. They have to focus on the task at hand.
“As soon as you start dwelling on it, that’s when the whole game starts turning upside-down for you,” McCarroll said.
McCarroll pointed out one kick that he missed earlier in the season against Ridgeline. The field goal would have won the game in an absolute shootout. The Panthers lost that game 58-56.
“I still think it went in, but it’s how the game goes,” McCarroll said. “It was my first time playing varsity football, so I was like, ‘It’s ok, I’ll bounce back from this.’ It’s led me to where I am today.”
McCarroll has had an interesting journey to the varsity team at Pine View. He didn’t even start playing football until high school. His whole family played football, and AJ decided to give it a chance.
He chose to try kicking, and his dad was a little shocked by his choice, but they rolled with it. McCarroll started attending camps and hitting the weight room. A big focus for AJ was putting on weight, as he was rather skinny in his first couple of years on the JV team. He did exactly that, put on weight and worked out consistently.
Most people think that kickers need to focus on their lower body strength, but that’s not completely the case. McCarroll stressed that hip mobility is key for kickers. He also does yoga to help with his flexibility, which is another big part of being a kicker.
“Most of it is your hip flexors,” McCarroll said. “It’s not really how strong your leg is, it’s about how fast your leg can hit the ball.”
Off the field, McCarroll spends time with his dad, who has been his biggest supporter and has taken over the role of being both the mom and dad. McCarroll lost his mom when he was about 5 years old.
“It’s kind of hard not having a mother’s view on everything, but he’s like the mom and dad now,” McCarroll said. “I’m really grateful that he’s my dad because I don’t know what I would do without him.”
Family plays a big part in McCarroll’s life, and his grandparents have not missed a single Pine View game this season.
“A lot of my family lives here still, so it’s really nice to see them a lot,” McCarroll said. “Growing up as a single dad family, it’s been a little hard but we’ve grown past it and become more humble. It’s taught me a lot of valuable life lessons.”
In the classroom, McCarroll enjoys history, science and physical education, but he made it clear that he’s not a math type of guy.
While being a perfectionist on the field, McCarroll is also a perfectionist in the classroom
“I can’t stand having a C in a class,” McCarroll said. “I hate looking at them. I always have to have an A or a high B+.”
His cumulative grade point average is 3.8, which only opens up more options for the kicker when it comes to being recruited to play in college. With a higher GPA, more colleges can pursue him as not only an athlete but a student.
“Honestly, if any college was willing to take me, I’d go with them,” McCarroll said. “I’m taking any opportunity I can. D1 would be really good, it’s every kid’s dream, but if it’s a D2 or D3 school, I’m not going to pass it up.”
McCarroll and the Pine View Panthers will most likely have a bye in the first round of the state tournament, meaning their next game will not be until Nov. 1. Pine View finished out their region season undefeated with a blowout win over Desert Hills to win the Region 9 title.
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