EDITOR'S NOTE: The story did not appear in its entirety in Thursday's Herald. The complete story appears below.
He can't leap tall buildings in a single bound, but when South Pointe kicker Landon Ard is called into action, he becomes "Superleg.'' Ard can punt a football high and long, can kick field goals from anywhere inside the 50, is money in the bank on extra points and is a defensive weapon.
In high school football the receiving team can't run the ball out of the end zone on kickoffs. Those kicks are called touchbacks and the offensive team has to start at its 20.
Ard kicked off nine times in a 51-0 win over the AFC Rangers last Friday in the Stallions' season opener and boomed seven into the end zone. On one Ard's kickoffs, one of the Rangers' return men stood at the 5, extended his arms and shrugged his shoulders while another kick sailed over his head.
The week before in a scrimmage at District Three Stadium, Ard rocketed a kickoff through the goalposts.
He'll get to show off his leg on national television Saturday against Northwestern. The Stallions play the Trojans at 4 p.m. at District Three as the second game of a nationally televised doubleheader.
Their game will be televised by ESPNU. A game pitting Byrnes against Hoover, Ala., will be carried by ESPN with a noon kickoff.
"My leg is strong for several reasons,'' said Ard, a 5-foot-9, 165-pound senior. "I run, lift weights just like the other players do and I've played soccer all my life. Kicking a football is like kicking a soccer ball, only a soccer ball is round and a football has points on each end.
"I kicked in middle school and realized it was something I wanted to do at South Pointe. We had a good kicker, Graham Tuttle, and I was behind him until he graduated two years ago. But even when I was a sophomore, and we won the state championship that year, I was the starting punter.''
South Pointe coach Bobby Carroll said Ard is different from any player he's ever coached. He's a good kid, carries a 4.5 GPA and led the soccer team in goals scored last spring.
Carroll said there is more to it than those reasons. He said Ard wants to be on the field at all times, but because he is such an "outstanding'' kicker, Ard is used only at defensive back when needed, like last year in the state semifinals against Northwestern when injuries sidelined several starters.
"Landon wants to play defensive back, wide receiver and running back and lets me know it,'' Carroll said with a chuckle. "He's the kind of kid that would play anywhere we asked him to play. But we want him out there kicking and punting. Having him as our kicker is another weapon for us.''
Ard burst on the scene last season after taking over for Tuttle. He converted 64 of 66 extra point attempts, 8 of 11 field goals, had 54 touchbacks and posted a 41.9-yard punting average. That's On those 54 touchbacks, teams had to start possessions at the 20 in the shadow of the goalposts.
Being focused, blocking out everything else and keeping his eye on the ball before a kick has become easy for Ard. He takes pride in his role and said that any time the Stallions are inside the 50, he's confident enough to try a field goal.
His longest is a 48-yarder.
"When we get inside the 50, usually the 40, I go to the kicking net on third down and start kicking in case I'm called on to kick a field goal or have to make an extra point,'' he said. "Same for punting. When it's third and long, I start drilling punts into the net.''
"It's not hard to get into a zone when I kick. If I start paying attention to things around me instead of the ball and don't go through my routine, that's when I miss. I don't worry about someone rushing in from the end. I have to be confident one of our blockers will pick him up and give me time to kick.''
There have been misses, but they are rare. Ard pointed out that there is more to kicking than just getting his foot on the football's "sweet spot." There needs to be a good snap, a good hold and good blocking so he can do his thing.
But when he misses a kick, Ard blames it on himself and not the other players involved in making the kick successful.
"I see every miss as being my fault,'' he said. "I go to the sideline and pretty much keep to myself. But I have good teammates. I'll stand as far away from the other players as I can, but they'll come over and tell me to get over it, that I'm going to get more opportunities to kick and get it right.''
Carroll said any college that gets Ard will be fortunate and that there have been inquiries. Ard was invited to participate in kicking camps at Kentucky and Wake Forest this summer. According to Ard, Kentucky showed interest but was told the Wildcats might not be seeking to sign a kicker.
Wake Forest, he said, didn't come right out and say he would get an offer but asked him to come back for a visit.
"That's the way college football is,'' Carroll said. "Most schools sign as many position players where they need help, then if there is a scholarship left they might, but often don't, give one to a kicker.
"I talked to Spencer Lanning last week and he is South Carolina's kicker and punter, a York boy who does a pretty good job in the SEC. But he was asked to walk on and join the team; pay his own way until the coaches felt he deserved a scholarship. Like I said, a kicker lives a tough life.''
Ard isn't worried about college just yet. His concerns are making kicks that help the Stallions win and helping them get back to the state championship game, which would be in Class AAA this season after South Pointe was dropped a classification because of its small student body.
But football is football, and the Stallions play one of the toughest schedules in the state, with non-region games against Northwestern, Charlotte's Independence, Spartanburg and Rock Hill. On Sept. 24, South Pointe will be on national television again when the Stallions travel to Spartanburg. The game will be shown live on ESPN2 beginning at 7 p.m.
College coaches will likely be watching and there is a good chance they will notice a kid wearing glasses, dressed in a white, red and silver uniform kicking the heck out of the ball.
"I feel pressure at times, but not when I'm kicking,'' Ard said. "I feel it because our fans expect the best from us, to win and go to the state championship. The pressure is there because I don't want to ever let them down.''