Dave Ruthenberg, Sports Editor
Enid News and Eagle
ENID, Okla. —
It has been a long road back to the gridiron for ex-Enid High School record-setting placekicker J.P. Maciel. It led to a football scholarship at Division II Fort Hays State (Kan.) prior to the 2013 season. But, that road had a couple of more twists and turns awaiting Maciel.
Entering the season, Maciel hoped to immediately contribute for the Tigers, but found himself puzzling over his lack of playing time.
“I was expecting to go in and start playing,” Maciel said. But his long wait to play again — he hadn’t played since the 2010 season at Enid when he rewrote the Plainsmen career and single-season kicking record books — was pushed back first thanks to a delay from the NCAA Clearinghouse.
“We found out I was ineligible in the first two games,” Maciel said. “My ACT scores didn’t go through and therefore my transfer didn’t go through in time.” Technically, Maciel was a transfer, having first attended Cowley County (Kan.) Community College on a soccer scholarship before turning back to his real love, playing football.
“I was frustrated over the eligibility problems,” Maciel said. “I came all the way here for them to tell me ‘hey, you can’t play because you’re not eligible now.’”
Then, came another surprise.
Once the transfer issue cleared up, he was called into head coach Chris Brown’s office.
“After two games, he called me in the office and said ‘J.P., here’s the deal: I don’t want to waste one of your years. I don’t want to burn a year,’” Maciel recalled. And with that, Maciel got introduced to a term he never had heard of before: Redshirt.
The concept of redshirting was as foreign to Maciel as Enid once seemed to him when he moved to Enid from his native Brazil at the age of 15.
He turned to former EHS teammate Mitchell Foote, who had completed his own redshirt season a year earlier as a wide receiver at Emporia State.
“I asked him (Foote) why are they sitting me out and he said that’s just for you to get experience, to watch what they do and make sure you do the same thing. He told me you are going to get playing time next year, just watch everything they do.”
Reassured by his former teammate, Maciel took Foote’s advice to heart.
The team had a senior punter and a sophomore placekicker ahead of him, but Tigers’ head coach Chris Brown explained to him the plan was to convert placekicker Drew O’Brien to punter the next season and Maciel would take over all placekicking duties.
According to Maciel, Brown told him next year it was going to be “all you, so you might as well get some experience.”
Unlike most, redshirts, however, Maciel traveled with the team on every road game, one of only two redshirts to travel with the team.
He has used the time to focus on academics, work on his mechanics and to get bigger in the weight room, one of the primary objectives of his redshirt.
Maciel said he has put on 15 pounds and is up to 145 pounds on his 5-foot-9 frame. He said he has put on most of his weight in his upper body, which has helped with his distance on kicks, which he practices every day, even while back in Enid over the holiday break, kicking on the practice field behind Enid High School when he gets off work from his job at Independent Diesel.
Maciel said his longest kick in practice at Fort Hays has been 62 yards, but knows practice is a different world from kicking when the pressure is on.
“It’s harder when you have 6-foot-6 or 6-foot-8 guys coming at you,” Maciel said. “And then you have the ones on the corner flying at you and you wonder which ones do I worry about; the big guys or the fast guys?”
But he said it’s all a state of mind. “If you think you are going to miss, you are going to miss, so you just have to clear your mind and focus,” Maciel said. Even when practicing in Enid over the holidays he had his friend stand back eight yards and charge at him to put a little pressure on him.
He has found practices in college more demanding than his days at EHS as well.
“In high school, when I kicked, it was just pretty much just kick for two hours and I am out,” Maciel said. But at Fort Hays, there is film study, weight training and practice, not to mention a full class load.
Looking back, he believes redshirting was the right decision. “It definitely helped me,” he said. He has passed all his classes and had a 3.3 GPA last semester.
Maciel is grateful for the opportunity that is being offered him at Fort Hays, and especially likes the school’s indoor practice facility — one of the few in Division II — where he and O'Brien frequently engage in friendly kicking competitions, pushing each other.
“It’s a good school,” Maciel said. “Academic-wise, sports-wise, I am enjoying it. I made the right choice. Your teammates are always there for you.”
And he feels pretty good about the upcoming season for the Tigers, who finished 6-5 last season, playing in the tough Mid-America Intercollegiate Athletics Association (MIAA), considered by many to be the SEC of Division II football. The 6-5 mark in 2013 was FHSU’s best finish since also going 6-5 in 2009.
Maciel’s ultimate goal remains getting to kick in the NFL, or at least kicking professionally. “I can’t see myself working anywhere, but kicking. I just want to go kick, no matter where.”
But first things first for the 22-year-old redshirt freshman, who says he feels like he has been a freshman now for four years.
“I am counting the days,” Maciel said about finally getting on the field and making his first collegiate kick.
It would mark a long road successfully navigated, but hopefully with no more detours.