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The Kick Is Up

Carolina Panther Olindo Mare talks NFL kicking By Mike Savicki   For the overwhelming majority of the typical NFL game, Olindo Mare stands on the sidelines. He knows there’s nothing personal about the decision; he understands that staying prepared while on the sidelines is simply part of the job of being a professional kicker.   “As much as football is a team sport, the kicking falls squarely on your shoulders,” says first year Panther kicker and 15 year NFL veteran, Olindo Mare. “Regular offensive and defensive players get between fifty and sixty chances in a game to make plays. I get maybe three or four.”   When Mare hears his number called, he walks squarely into the spotlight. He knows the success of the kickoff, field goal or extra point is squarely on his shoulders. And he knows that the outcome of a game often rests on the accuracy of his right foot.   Olindo Mare is the NFL’s version of a sniper. It’s his job to hit the target.   “Kicking is a very visible play since the game is stopped and everybody is keyed on you, unlike an offensive or defensive play where there are so many moving parts,” he explains. “You only get so many chances during a game, and they are so obvious. It’s nice when you capitalize on the chances you get.”   A soccer background Olindo Mare hasn’t always been a kicker. Raised playing soccer near his south Florida home, the Mooresville resident admits he didn’t feel a childhood pull toward football. He says he mainly kicked in high school football games so he could be with his friends.   “But there was a time when I played soccer that I noticed I had a stronger leg than most people, and when I got into kicking on a field with yard lines, it was obvious that I could kick better than most people,” he offers.   About the time Mare realized he had natural talent and was giftedd with powerful leg strength, he began watching a soccer convert succeed as a kicker in the NFL. He felt the pull and realized he had an opportunity, too.   Mare says, “When I was in Miami, I saw a guy named Pete Stoyanovich who used to play soccer, and I thought about making the switch, too. He learned how to translate his soccer into football, and I learned from watching him.”   Olindo Mare attended college on a punting scholarship, and after a stint at MacMurray College in Jacksonville, Illinois, he finished his collegiate career at Syracuse University. Mare then played the first ten years of his career with the Miami Dolphins before kicking for the New Orleans Saints and the Seattle Seahawks.   Timing is everything “Now, after fifteen years in the league, you’d think I know all I need to, but I’m still learning new things even today,” Mare admits.   Timing, Mare says, is crucial to the success of a kick.   “People don’t think the timing is difficult, but it really is. You have about one point three seconds to get the ball snapped and off your foot,” he explains. “Some people go to point three five seconds, but once you start getting above that, guys can start getting around the corner on you. It doesn’t sound like a lot, but tenths of a second make a huge difference.”   Tenths of a second also make a huge difference when it comes to establishing a successful relationship between the snapper, the holder and the kicker.   Mare explains, “There's nothing automatic about any of our jobs, and sometimes it’s easy for fans to just assume it works. The relationship that (Jason) Baker and JJ (Jansen) have on the field goals makes my job easier, but none of us do it alone. If any of us are off by even a little, the play may not be a success.”   He says the information he gathers from his two closest teammates help him do his job better, adding, “Sometimes I call Baker my caddie because I ask him questions about things like the wind speed and direction (like a golfer does). The better the relationship is, the better we do our job.”   Ice, ice baby As a quarter nears its end or a close game dwindles to its final seconds, Olindo Mare is on highest alert. He knows his teammates have done their jobs for nearly three hours and understands it’s his turn to perform. One tactic commonly used by opposing teams to test his mental focus is calling a timeout, a move known as “icing the kicker,” that isn’t always successful.   “I don’t know if that’s the right way to go,” he offers. “Sometimes the chaos of getting on the field and getting the play off without a timeout adds more pressure, even though we practice it time and time again. On grass, the timeout gives you time to look for better footing and find a better spot. And if (a coach) wants to ice you and you are outside, they may know what the wind is like on the sidelines but they don’t know what it’s like in the middle of the field. You can use the extra time to get a better feeling for it.   “When I get on the field, I’m focused on those same things that I have been focused on all week in practice. I try to block everything else out and just do my job. I’m focused on getting the ball higher or lower, depending on the wind, and making sure it has the distance to get there. (As a kicker), you do what you know and trust in your ability.”   After time expires and his team has earned a victory, Mare says he feels the most satisfaction.   “Seeing my wife and kids on the field after the game and seeing them run up to me with smiles, that’s my reward,” he concludes. “And being in the locker room after a win, I don’t know many things that are better than that as an athlete on a team.”  
This article was originally published in the October 2011 edition of Currents Magazine.