The last time that Jacob Crear had put on full pads and stepped into a competitive football game was in either third or fourth grade (long enough ago that he couldn’t remember which). He spent one year in Mighty Mites before turning his attention almost completely to soccer. It appeared that his football career was over before middle school.
But then, last Saturday, Crear made an unexpected return to the gridiron. The former North Attleboro soccer standout threw on the pads again and walked out onto the field as the kicker for Bridgewater State in its season opener against Buffalo State College at Swenson Field.
The senior, who had not played a competitive sport since taking part in club hockey as a freshman at Springfield College, nailed a 36-yard kick in the first quarter that tied the game and also made 3-of-4 extra points (his only miss was blocked), including one with 27 seconds remaining that turned out to be the game-winner.
“The last PAT, they almost blocked it again,” he said in a phone call this week. “It actually tipped off the guy’s finger and barely made it over the bar, maybe a foot over the bar.”
He joked, “I never would’ve thought that I would play football. That was only the second time that I’ve ever worn full pads and it’s a little different kicking with full pads on.”
Crear had no plans to join the football team this season. He was convinced by his roommates, and fellow North Attleboro alumni, junior offensive lineman Austin White and sophomore defensive lineman Max Kroll that he could help the Bears. They knew he was a strong soccer player for the Rocketeers and that he was still active playing in men’s leagues, so they took him out to the field to see how he would do with a football.
“I wasn’t really doing anything anyway, so it gave me something to do during the day and if I’m good at it then why not?” Crear explained.
The football team had already held a preseason scrimmage and did not have someone dedicated to kicking on the roster. The job was going to be filled by one of the receivers who had kicked a little in high school. Kroll and White took Crear out to kick on a Wednesday just to see how he would do. Two days later, a day after the Bears scrimmaged, they had him in front of the Bridgewater coaches for a tryout.
“I guess it went well,” Crear joked. “They liked how I was kicking, so they asked if I wanted to be on the team, if I was fully committed, and I said yeah. They seemed pretty happy about it.”
When asked how he felt walking into a tryout for a sport that he had only played for one year as a youth, Crear admitted, “It was a little nerve-wracking because I didn’t know if my kick would go straight or where it would go because I haven’t done it often. I didn’t know if I’d be able to control it, but it’s pretty similar to a soccer ball.”
He used his years of experience on the pitch, especially playing as a center back for his men’s league team, to quickly pick up the motion for kicking field goals. He described kicking the football like sending a lofted ball across the field, except that instead of striking it with the laces you use the ball of the foot and instead of “pinging the ball somewhere on a line” more height is needed.
The hardest transition has been the rhythm and the timing of the snap and the the hold. “We started working on timing, just keeping the rhythm every day,” Crear said. “We’re doing the same drills to strengthen my leg or work on accuracy or height of the ball. You can see the progression is getting better as the days go by.”
Crear had little time to think about his first collegiate kick. In the first quarter against Buffalo State, the Bears had a drive stall trailing 3-0 and Crear was thrown right in for a 36-yard kick.
“I was thinking hopefully my first kick will be a kickoff, second kick will be a PAT and then maybe after that will be a field goal,” he said. “My legs were shaking before, standing there to kick, but after that it was a sigh of relief that it actually went in.”
His teammates were thrilled. Crear said, “Everyone was pumped because they’re not really used to having someone who could kick. They were pumped that it went in and it tied up the game. It was just an overall good feeling.”
Crear had one of his extra points in week one blocked (which allowed him to make his first collegiate tackle) and in week two at Endicott he had a pair of field goals blocked as well (he went 1-for-3 in a 17-3 loss). It is still a work in progress for Crear just a couple of weeks after kicking a football for the first time, but he is relishing the experience of being part of a team and adding a different dimension to his final year of college.
“It’s good to be part of a team again,” he said. “The biggest thing for me is to enjoy it because I haven’t played a competitive sport in a long time.”
This week, the Bears will open league play at Framingham State.