By RYAN HERMAN
DENVER –– Blake Strupp isn’t the quarterback, but he feels his job is as important as the one taking the snaps.
That’s because it is.
Strupp is East Lincoln’s sophomore kicker, and without him the Mustangs might not be in the situation they’re in –– in the third round of the state playoffs for a second straight year.
The 5-foot-9, 155-pound kicker who doubles as a defensive back doesn’t just put point values of 1 and 3 on the scoreboard. He’s also responsible for giving opponents poor field position –– a key component to East Lincoln’s defensive success.
“Statistically, the starting position of an offense is directly attributed to how many points they put up on the board. So when you’re getting somebody who can, you know, most of the time give your kickoff team a chance to pin somebody back inside the 20 or 30, that’s a humongous help,” Mustangs coach Mike Byus said.
East Lincoln (9-4), which travels to Monroe (11-2) for their third round game on Friday, has not given up a special teams touchdown this season. A lot of that has to do with its defense, but when you force an opponent to start at its own 20 more often than not without the benefit of a return, an already-tough defense makes scoring that much harder.
“It’s just like being a quarterback. You’ve got to do your throws smooth. You can’t just lob it up or throw bullets. You’ve got to be smooth through everything,” Strupp said.
Strupp didn’t just wake up one morning and decide to kick. A life-long soccer player, Strupp is following in his older brother’s footsteps.
Brandon Strupp, a 2009 graduate of East Lincoln who helped it to the 2008 state title game, wrapped up his college career last week in Charlotte’s 61-17 win at Morehead State. In his only season with the 49ers –– their only season as a program –– Strupp, their punter, had 54 punts for 2,058 total yards, or 38.1 yards per punt. His longest was 55 yards, he had 16 downed inside the 20 and had six punts of 50 yards or longer.
The 16-year old and his college-kicking brother are the only two in their family who kick, Blake Strupp said.
“Just me and him. (I) played soccer before (football), and just decided to get into football and start kicking. Just followed him,” Strupp said of his brother.
It’s been four years since the younger Strupp decided to kick. He said he gave up soccer this year to solely focus on kicking.
He’s also the only one on East Lincoln’s roster that can do what he does as good as he does it.
“It’s a huge privilege. I’m the only kicker out here that really has the knowledge from my brother and from other coaches and from going to camps. Having the privilege of being here is a huge goal and a huge success,” Strupp said.
“He’s an excellent defensive back, and every time he goes in I cringe,” added Byus. “He’s pretty important.”
Strupp has converted all 11 of his point-after attempts in the postseason, and is 60 for 67 on the year. He’s so accurate that the Mustangs have yet to attempt a two-point conversion this year.
But when you’re ahead as much as they are, it’s not really necessary. And much to Strupp’s chagrin, he hasn’t been handed that kick-it-for-the-win situation he longs for.
“I’ve thought about it many times, coming down to that. But our offense is so good that we push through it and it don’t have to come down to that. But when it does, I’m sure as heck going to be ready for it,” he said.
Not only is Strupp’s older brother a college punter –– Brandon transferred to Charlotte from Concord University in West Virginia –– his father is an athlete as well.
Russ Strupp works in NASCAR, and is currently a crew manager at Roush Fenway Racing for Greg Biffle’s race team. He’s also been the crew chief for Matt Kenseth while he ran the Nationwide Series, and has been his jack carrier at the Sprint Cup level as well, Blake Strupp said.
Blake Strupp said he looks to everyone in his family for advice and support, but none more than his brother.
“I usually talk to (my brother) on Thursdays. Sometimes we’ll come out here and kick in the dark. We just work on the little things to get to perfection,” Blake said. “I watch his steps, his drop, I watch him work through everything, and then I take it back to me the next week.”
For Byus, both Strupps have been an important part of the recent success the Mustangs have had.
“Work ethic. They’re good athletes –– you can’t do anything like that without being a quality athlete –– but the separator of all athletes is their work ethic. They’re just both driven in all aspects of it. They’re just tremendous kids,” he said.
Strupp’s extra-point success –– he’s converted an astounding 91 percent of his PATs –– and being able to place the ball deep in the opponent’s territory comes from having the mindset of a quarterback.
“Focus points on the ball, working through the ball, not just kicking it,” he said. “You’ve got to be smooth through everything.”
Strupp has two plans in life, and both involve following a family member. He said he either wants to follow his brother’s path to kicking in college, and if that doesn’t happen, he said he would like to attend Charlotte and major in its NASCAR program and go into business for his father.
Russ Strupp is a big reason Greg Biffle finished ninth in the standings this season and earned more than $4.8 million in winnings, so it’s no surprise Biffle is Blake’s favorite driver.
Like the driver of the No. 26 Ford, Strupp wants to live at the top.
Also like Biffle, Strupp has a support staff to help him get there.
“Hard work and dedication, going to camps, and him helping me through it all. Brotherly love,” Strupp said of his success. “(Biffle) was on the top throughout the whole season, pretty much. That’s what my goal is, to be out on top and to be on top for everything, even life.”