By DAVE O’SULLIVAN
To hit a home run at most high school softball fields, a batter has to hit a ball 200 feet. Imagine being able to kick a football that far. If you do the math, 67 yards is 201 feet. That’s the farthest Absegami senior place kicker Zach Sterr has ever kicked in practice. Not a kickoff, mind you, a field goal. A few years ago, Sterr started training with 5-Star Kicking guru Jim Cooper, whose son, also named Jim, was one of the best kickers in South Jersey history during his time at Mainland Regional. Sterr never thought he would even come close to being that good.
But he has.
Sterr won’t challenge Cooper’s career field goal record for kickers on Cape-Atlantic League teams (which are now part of the West Jersey Football League), but he’ll finish in the top three among that category, behind only Cooper and recent Mainland graduate Mike Juliano. Sterr’s 15 career field goals are only four behind Juliano and he still has at least two games to play this season.
But Sterr’s career goes so much further than just making field goals, said Braves coach Dennis Scuderi Jr. Sterr also handles all the kickoff duties as well as punting, and sometimes the importance of that goes unnoticed by fans.
“What a lot of people don’t realize is that Zach sacrifices a lot for us. We do a lot of stuff where we directional kick (on kickoffs), where we try to pin opponents inside their own 20-yard line with some pop kicks. He could get touchbacks all the time, but it’s all the little things he does for us that people don’t see that might not come out in the credit line,” Scuderi said. “People might see kickoffs that only go to the 20, but every one of them, the other team is unable to return. From that standpoint, it allows us to get some younger kids on special teams to get them some experience. And there aren’t many kids who can do that, who can drop a kickoff exactly where you need it.”
Sterr, this edition’s Old Cape Recycling Scholar Athlete, also has been a great leader for the Braves’ football program, always willing to mentor younger players while setting the bar high in the classroom.
“He’s in the top three or four in points by a kicker in the history of Cape-Atlantic League teams, and you don’t get those kinds of kids very often. He’s been outstanding. He’s a smart kid and has been a great leader for us. A lot of times you don’t say that about a special teams guy or kicker, but he’s done a great job. He’s one of the kids we send out as a captain,” Scuderi said. “He’s made a lot of timely field goals and done a lot for us. We have all the confidence in the world, if the game is on the line, to run Zach out there for a field goal. You get a kid like Zach as a kicker maybe once in your coaching career. He’s one of the top kickers in South Jersey, and hopefully he ends up at a big-time college.”
“I think I’ve had a pretty good career, starting on varsity for four years. It was very humbling to get my 100th point. I had no idea I was even close to that. I thought I was around 70 or something like that, so I was surprised,” said Sterr, who is being looked at by Rutgers and Maryland, among other colleges. “Breaking the school record for made field goals in a career is also humbling, and I think I’m third now among Cape-Atlantic League kickers. I could have made some more kicks, but I’m pretty happy with what I’m doing.”
Sterr said being a kicker takes a lot of mental toughness. Missing a big kick might mean an entire fan base goes home with a sour feeling on a Friday night.
“Thinking about it is nerve-wracking. I remember my sophomore year we were playing EHT in a driving rain, and coach Scuderi in the third quarter said, ‘this game is going to come down to you.’ There was about a minute left and I started warming up, I was freezing and my cleats were soaked. So that time period before is definitely nerve-wracking, but once I step onto the field — everyone is cheering and screaming and trying to distract me — but I don’t hear anything. I just hear silence and I’m focused on the ball, believing in my mechanics,” he said. “Once you get your first field goal or first extra point, as you get older, you’re not as nervous. It becomes more adrenaline pumping rather than butterflies.”
Sterr also keeps a demanding schedule. To be a kicker who top colleges recruit means a high school kid has to be willing to travel and seek out the best kicking coaches and camps. That means a lot of time on the road during the school year and on summer break.
“It’s been tough. I’ve traveled week in and week out. I’ve gone to Maryland twice a month to train and I travel up to Winslow every weekend to train,” Sterr said. “But, school is definitely the No. 1 thing. Grades are very important to me. I’ve always wanted to be a straight-A student, so I’ve gotten my GPA up to a 4.0.”
Being a 4.0 student means Sterr knows his football career may be fleeting, which is why he wants to study sports management, business and media at whatever college he chooses. He’s constantly telling younger players in the Absegami program to make sure their grades are a top priority.
“I harp on some of the younger kids and have taken a lot of them under my wing. They ask me what it’s like to play football for four years and how I get it done in the classroom. It’s a maturity thing,” he said. “I’ve harped on them that their career might end with one play and then you can’t depend on football anymore. And I take it that way myself. I know I can’t slack off in the classroom because I know my career could end at any moment, and that’s what’s going to get you into college and get you a job in the future.”
Sterr likely will go down as one of the best kickers ever in South Jersey, but he said he hasn’t given much thought to what his legacy will eventually be.
“I haven’t really focused in on that yet,” he said. “It’s a little bittersweet that it’s coming to an end.”
Contact Dave O’Sullivan: firstname.lastname@example.org; on Twitter @GDsullysays