Thursday, Jan. 26, 2012 | 2:05 a.m.
Jay Mattox places a football on the kicking tee, paces out a few steps and lines up a field goal attempt.
Seconds later, he lets fly on a long-range kick, easily drilling the ball through the uprights from about 40 yards out. He quickly reviews the mechanics of the kick, decides if adjustments need to be made and reaches for another ball to continue the practice session.
It’s the end of January, some seven months before Mattox’s senior season will begin at Las Vegas High, and the 5-foot-11 left-footed kicker is busy trying to master his craft.
Most high school programs in Southern Nevada struggle finding a kicker capable of executing the very basics of converting an extra point. Field goals are rarely attempted.
That’s far from the case for the strong-legged Mattox.
Last weekend, Mattox was rated as one of the top 12 kickers nationally for the class of 2013 during the 10th Annual National Kicking Event hosted by Chris Sailer Kicking at UNLV. The event, where more than 200 kickers attempted field goals, and had the distance and hang time of their kickoffs measured, helps identify and train future college kickers, punters and long snappers.
For his efforts, Mattox earned an invitation to the group’s exclusive elite camp this summer, which is a huge break in getting noticed for one of a few available college scholarships. Kickers typically are walk-on players.
Over the past nine years, 300 kickers and punters involved in the Chris Sailer program have earned a college scholarship, according to the group’s website. Mattox has already received recruiting interest from schools such as Alabama, Arkansas, BYU, Northwestern, San Jose State and Tennessee. Alabama sends a postcard virtually every other day.
“That’s pretty cool,” Mattox said of the recruiting interest. “It’s fun. It pays off.”
Mattox is rated as a 4.5-star prospect on the kicking website's scale of five stars. The group's scouts evaluate Mattox with the following: "Jay is an outstanding kicker. His field goals are smooth and consistent. His kickoffs are near the top of his class. He kicks extremely well under pressure and has a strong mental game. Has a big-time future with continued hard work."
Spend one hour watching Mattox, whose kickoff distance average of 68 yards with a 3.75-second hang time ranked third at the event, train this offseason and you’ll understand why he has excelled.
On Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursdays, he travels about 45 minutes to the opposite part of town to work on his leg speed and lower body strength at Philippi Sports Institute. On the other days, he’s at the high school kicking — repetitively working on field goals, kickoffs and punting.
No matter if it’s the first kick of the session or the last before heading home, Mattox approaches the kick with the same strategy and dedication.
“When I first started kicking, I thought it would be easy. But it takes time to be consistent,” Mattox said. “You need to make sure your (approach) is always right because half an inch difference can cause the kick to go left or right.”
Mattox, who played soccer during his freshman season at Las Vegas, excelled almost immediately when transitioning to field goal kicking. In 2010 as a sophomore, he converted 10 of 13 field goals in being named an All-American by Maxpreps.com.
Last fall, he made 6 of 7 field goals with a long of 46 yards and booted 47 of 68 kickoffs into the end zone for a touchback — a valuable stat in high school because it forces the opposition to start at its 20-yard line.
“For us, having him has been a blessing,” Las Vegas High coach James Thurman said. “Kicking is an important part of the game in high school and he is someone we can rely on.”
Mattox said he went 7 of 8 on field goal attempts (all from 40 yards out or further) during the weekend competition with Chris Sailer Kicking. During a last-man standing competition at the end of the event, he took second overall after a 55-yard attempt banged off the post.
It’s one of several events he’s traveled to in his quest to become a college kicker. During a camp last offseason at LSU, he was perfect on field goal attempts of 41, 48 and 56 yards in front of Tigers coach Les Miles. He participated in a similar event at Oregon.
“Jay has put a lot of effort on his own into this,” said Mike Lowe, Las Vegas High’s kicking coach. “From where he started to where he is today is remarkable. I attribute it to him because of his work ethic. His school, his grades, you don’t have to worry about any of that with him. He is a top-notch kid.”
Mattox became interested in kicking when he would chase footballs for Lowe’s son, former Wildcats kicker Trevor, during his offseason training. After Trevor graduated, Mattox decided to give football kicking a try.
He was far from a finished product those first few months when learning the strategy of kicking a different shaped-ball, but quickly made improvements. During his first football game, he drilled a 51-yard attempt. The rest is history.
“When I first started kicking, I would make from 40 yards one out of 10 times. I would have the distance but missed all over the place,” Mattox said.