High School Sports

Alonso gives Northside a major weapon in kicking game

WARNER ROBINS -- The thought of playing football never really entered Justin Alonso’s mind.

He was perfectly happy being a top-flight soccer player at Northside, until soccer head coach Sam Said -- who doubles as a freshman football coach -- talked to Alonso about giving it a try.

He did, but there was an immediate worry.

“The first time I put on a helmet, it was so heavy to me,” Alonso said. “It took me about a month to get used to having all this stuff on.”

That was in the spring of 2013. Alonso kept his head and helmet on straight while standout Isaac Rivera handled the place-kicking and punting duties.

Alonso has gone from being untested while trying to keep heavy headgear on straight to having played a huge role in helping Northside reach Friday’s GHSA Class AAAAA title game against Mays at the Georgia Dome.

“For somebody that’s never played, he took to it really quick,” Northside head coach Kevin Kinsler said. “But he’s a very mature kid.”

And then, the ultimate compliment: “Not your typical kicker mentality.”

Alonso might not fulfill the stereotype of kickers being a little out there, but he’s still learning the game of football, so some of the descriptions of his new experiences are entertaining.

Like when he started place-kicking and punting: “Honestly, I was scared to death. I was scared, because these people were rushing at me.”

Or his mother’s worries about his new game: “She had some second thoughts about it, because she didn’t want to see me get hit by those big linebackers. I told her I’d be all right, I think I can hang in there.”

Or when he went from kicker to potential tackler when a kick returner found a seam: “Oh my goodness. The only thing I felt was this dude holding on to my arm. My main focus was trying to get the dude out of bounds. I was surprised about (being held on the play). I’m just a kicker, I’ve never tackled anybody in my life.”

The Eagles aren’t relying on him to do that, but their faith in his kicking skills certainly has been rewarded.

The junior is 14-of-16 on field goal tries, and his latest effort was nailing all three attempts Friday in a 30-21 semifinal win over Allatoona at Mercer University Stadium.

He has made nine straight since overconfidence led to a miss back in October on a 47-yard try against Grovetown.

“I’d kicked some pretty far in practice,” he said. “I was confident going into that kick, and I squibbed it, and it never made it.”

Basically, the more worried and stressed Alonso is, the smoother the kick is likely to be.

“Honestly, every game, I’m just really, really nervous,” he said. “What usually gets me settled is warm-ups. I check everything I do, and that prepares me for the game.

“It keeps me level, humbled.”

Alonso provided the first points against Warner Robins, a game the Eagles won by three. He provided the final point, the game-winning one, on an extra-point kick against Houston County.

And he had three field goals in each of Northside’s two nine-point playoff wins.

Kinsler found a comfort zone with Alonso -- who averages 34.4 yards per punt -- even before he tried a varsity kick.

“I know it was his first year,” Kinsler said. “But throughout the year, he kept progressing and progressing. If anything had happened to (Rivera), I felt confident with him within a certain range.

“He had improved so much, I felt going into this year that Justin would do a good job for us. He’s an exceptional kid. Obviously, the thing that impresses me about him ... is how conscientious he is about his work ethic and how he performs.”

The greater the anxiety, apparently, the better the accuracy.