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Kicker offers a lesson in toughness

Injured Langley Ram punts, kicks off, boots field goals

By Steve Ewen, The Province November 9, 2012

2009 Hawk grad Nick Naylor in action earlier this season with the Langley Rams. Photo: Y. Churly

Somewhere, there’s an underground meeting of the Football Kickers and Punters Union going on and they’re hoping that Nick Naylor’s highlights can take some of the sting out of those Bill Gra-matica ones from over a decade ago.

Gramatica’s name may not be familiar, but his image should be, since the clip of him tearing up his knee with an over-the-top celebration of a field goal he booted for the Arizona Cardinals against the New York Giants in 2001 still makes blooper reels.

Naylor and his actions in the B.C. Junior Football League finale a couple of weekends ago should have a place in local gridiron lore at the very least.

Naylor dislocated his shoulder making a touchdown-saving tackle on the opening kickoff of his Langley Rams’ Oct. 27 championship game against the Vancouver Island Raiders in Nanaimo.

With a little luck and help from trainers on the sidelines, the shoulder went back into place, and Naylor went on to finish the game, kicking a pair of field goals in a 20-13 victory.

That victory propelled the Rams into the Canadian final, which they will host Saturday at McLeod Stadium (1 p.m.) against the two-time reigning nation champion Saskatoon Hilltops.

“When you see a guy who shouldn’t be that tough do that, it picks up the rest of the guys,” said Langley coach Jeff Alamolhoda.

“When you see your kicker leave everything he’s got on the football field, and you’re a linebacker or an offensive lineman or whatever, you think ‘I’d better step up my game.’

“He definitely motivated our guys.” Naylor kicked field goals of 19 and 24 yards and was good on both converts he attempted, helping end the Raiders’ six-year run as provincial champions. He also nailed 10 punts an average of 34 yards and banged off three kickoffs an average of 53.

“I knew there was something wrong with my shoulder, but I was pretty sure that I was going back into the game,” said Naylor, an Abbotsford native who just turned 20. “It popped back in a couple of minutes before I had to go back on the field.

“The first five kicks were weird. It took some getting used to. Kicking is such a technical thing. When one part of your body is out of whack, you can sense it.”

Naylor said that he had a belief that the Rams could upend the Raiders, due to a “feeling in the locker-room before the game … Our preparedness was pretty high.”

The Hilltops, who have won the national title six times in the past 11 years, would seem to provide an even greater challenge. They finished the regular season second in the Prairie Football Conference, at 6-2-0, but they’ve ripped off three straight playoff wins, including beating the Ontario champion London Beefeaters 51-7 last week to advance to the meeting with Langley.

The Hilltops rushed for 256 yards as a team that game.

“They’re a big, strong, powerful football team with a lot of confidence,” said Alamolhoda, whose team is in its second year in Langley after being based in Surrey since 1988. “They’ve been there before. They have experience in that type of game.

“I know some people see it as David versus Goliath, but we don’t see it as that. We feel we’re capable of competing with anybody.”

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