After watching B.T. Potter thump kickoffs onto the roofs of locker rooms and through field goal posts the last four years, it feels appropriate to ask: is he one of the best high school football place-kickers in South Carolina history?
Two facts obscure the answer: there are plenty of other candidates, and finding stats on place-kickers isn’t easy.
Other kickers, like Riverside’s Richard Jackson and Spring Valley’s Marty Simpson, have hit longer field goals. But if Potter isn’t the best overall kicker -- he hasn’t kicked many long field goals because of how good his team has been for four years -- he’s certainly the best defensive kicker in state history.
“He’s a tremendous weapon for them that a lot of teams just don’t have,” said Hartsville coach Jeff Calabrese, whose Red Foxes face South Pointe in Saturday’s 4A state championship game. “If they didn’t have him would it help? Yeah it would! He’s certainly not the glamor pick for one of their best players, but from a coach’s perspective probably the one that matters the most because of field position.”
Potter, an Army All-American committed to Clemson, has bashed 108 of 117 kickoffs into the end zone for touchbacks this season. Calabrese’s offense knows it’s almost certainly starting from its 20-yard line after each kickoff. As Calabrese said, “that’s where they get you.”
When teams start offensive drives at their 20-yard line they have just shy of a 20 percent chance of scoring a touchdown or field goal. The likelihood of a team scoring increases 10 percent every 10 yards closer to the end zone.
One of the studies found that teams that had average starting field positions 20 yards better than their opponents won the game 96 percent of the time. When that number was between 10 and 15 yards, there was still an 86 percent chance of victory.
It’s not a stretch to suggest that South Pointe’s average starting field position has been 20 yards better than most of the teams it’s played in the postseason the last month.
Those data points make the value of Potter’s touchbacks more obvious.
“He’s just a problem,” said Calabrese. “I’m a Clemson fan, so after this game Saturday I’m gonna be super excited to cheer for him.”
Potter has started all four years at South Pointe after beginning to kick footballs in eighth grade. He made his biggest jump during the offseason between his sophomore and junior year when he began working with Charlotte-based kicking coach Dan Orner.
“He was pretty good as a freshman but he needed that technique,” said South Pointe coach Strait Herron. “Once Dan got him doing those drills and working it was unbelievable how much he changed.”
Very few South Carolina high schools have dedicated and knowledgeable kicking coaches, making outside work even more valuable. Herron remembered Potter’s first kicking session with Orner. Potter added five yards to his kickoffs in the first two-hour session.
“Last year, he missed one and we were able to return it 60, 70 yards,” said Calabrese. “He doesn’t miss many. He’s so consistent.”
Herron pointed out that at least half of the kickoffs Potter didn’t put in the end zone this fall were because of unsportsmanlike penalties during the preceding touchdown that forced him to kick off from further back. Potter hit one kickoff from South Pointe’s 25-yard line to the opposing team’s 1-yard line, a 74-yard kick.
“He’s still got some growth,” Herron said. “He hasn’t maxed out. He could still keep going but that’s Clemson’s problem now. I’ve run out of time.”
South Carolina high school football’s best place-kickers
▪ If you know of another place-kicker (not punter) worthy of inclusion, please email firstname.lastname@example.org
Richard Jackson, Riverside - Jackson was a highly-touted recruit in high school, earning Parade All-American honors. According to TigerIllustrated.com, he hit 9-of-14 field goals as a junior, and averaged 44 and 46 yards per punt his last two years of high school. Jackson nailed a 64-yard field goal in 2005 that made Sportscenter’s top-10 plays and is the South Carolina state record longest field goal, though it’s not in the SCHSL record book.
Chandler Catanzaro, Christ Church - Catanzaro made 10-16 field goals senior year with just one miss inside 51 yards. He connected on 47-of-48 extra points, kicked 41 touchbacks and had a 41-yard punt average. He walked-on at Clemson, becoming a four-year starter, a three-time All-ACC selection and the school’s all-time leading scorer. Possessing a very accurate leg, Catanzaro is kicking for the New York Jets in the NFL, his fourth season as a pro after three successful years with the Arizona Cardinals.
Nelson Welch, Greer - USA Today SC Player of the Year his senior year and later graduated Clemson, where he was a four-time All-ACC pick and two-time All-American, with the career field goals record. Welch made 14-of-16 field goals and 40-of-41 extra points his senior year at Greer. He also led the state in punting with a 41-yard average. Welch played defensive back and wide receiver and was one of the early soccer-style kickers in the state. Welch is probably one of the state’s most athletic full-time kickers; he ran a 4.3 40-yard dash at Clemson.
Marty Simpson, Spring Valley - Simpson made 57 and 61-yard field goals during his career at Spring Valley in the late 1980s. He kicked 88 consecutive extra points in one stretch. His 27-yard field goal was the only scoring of Spring Valley’s win over Gaffney in the 1988 4A state championship game. Simpson, now a comedian, became the state’s first kicker to be named USA Today All-American, and also earned Parade and Street & Smith’s All-American honors. He kicked in college at South Carolina
Will Caison, Walterboro - Caison made a single season state record 19 field goals for Walterboro High, which has since been consolidated into Colleton County, in 1995. Caison said in a Twitter direct message that he considered walking-on at South Carolina but went to North Greenville, where he redshirted before leaving the football program a year later.
B.T. Potter, South Pointe - Army All-American headed to Clemson on scholarship. Potter has hit 92 percent of his 222 kickoffs for touchbacks the last two seasons. As a senior he’s made 11-of-16 field goals, with a long of 45, and converted 72-of-76 extra points. He’s also got a 37-yard punt average with nine of 30 downed inside the 20. With a win Saturday, Potter could graduate high school winning a state championship every year.