Just for Kicks
Zac Koufakis, a sophomore football player at Manhasset High School, is trapped in a home where he clashes as a lone Jets fan in a Giants-crazed family. It is a good thing too, because on Thursday, Zac was personally invited by Jets kicker Mike Nugent to come out for an afternoon of private kicking lessons at Green & White headquarters in Hempstead.
Koufakis, just 15 years-old, will enter his second year of high school in the fall. Despite playing soccer throughout his entire pre-high school sports career, the young kicker made a striking impression with the Manhasset football staff last season and was immediately appointed starting kicker of the JV team on just day one of tryouts.
During a Jets event last season, Koufakis knocked down field goals one after another on the Meadowlands turf. Eventually, all eyes were on young Zac as he split the uprights from distances even Nugent – an All-American at Ohio State – would find impressive. Even with the pressures of the media and Jets players looming around on Thursday, Koufakis again wowed those in attendance with significant consistency.
"He has a bright future. He's real young - just a sophomore in high school," said Nugent. "I didn't want to change his style. I just wanted things to get going a little bit and point him in the right direction."
As the sun beat down on the fields behind Weeb Ewbank Hall, Nugent led Koufakis through various kicking drills that are common in the NFL. The Manhasset native not only digested the tremendous professional tips and opinions, but he held his own next to the Jets' big right leg. After an exchange of successful field goals on an interesting sharp-angle kicking drill, Koufakis shot one through the uprights, putting all the pressure on Nugent. Let's just say that luckily for the Jets kicker, special teams coach Mike Westhoff wasn't on hand to see the unfortunate outcome.
"He did great, and he'll have a very bright future as long as he can take the things he's learned," said Nugent. "You know I'm only one person, so what I say isn't the exact thing he needs to do. My opinion is good for me because it's worked for me. I just wanted to help him out with what I have learned and been through."
After knocking down field goals all afternoon, Koufakis recalled how this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity began, and how he was truly grateful for the experience.
"It was pretty amazing. I never thought I'd get the chance to kick with Mike," said Zac, who also plays some lacrosse. "It's a pretty good opportunity. I was at school and they pulled me out of class to tell me the Jets called. I was like, 'What are you talking about?' I called them back and they said I would be able to come out and kick with Mike someday."
Nugent, an Ohio native who grew up a Cincinnati Bengals fan, was more than happy to give a private lesson.
"I was always a big Bengals fan growing up because I lived outside of Cincinnati," he said. "If I could have kicked with the kicker from the Bengals when I was a sophomore in high school, it would have been the greatest thing in the world to me. Hopefully I made it a great experience for Zac."