A Kicker With Heart

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Corona del Mar’s Griff Amies kicks one of his four field goals against rival Newport Harbor High last month. Photos by Jeff Denning

Griff Amies is a football player at Corona del Mar High in Newport Beach.  He’s the team’s kick-off and field goal kicker.

On the surface, there’s nothing really special about that. A lot of kids play high school football. Some do it to build character. Others, for the exercise and the love of the game. Some even do it just to impress girls!

Amies does it because he is on a mission in life to do something special. The first time you see Griff kick a football you see that this kid is just that – something special.

He not only kicks the ball like most high school kids cannot, he does it with a special air of confidence that catches your attention. It did mine.

At this year’s  “Battle of the Bay” football game between Corona del Mar High and Newport Harbor High, I happened to be in the stands. I’m a Newport Harbor grad and I was there to cheer on the Sailors, who ultimately prevailed in a classic game that came down to the last seconds.

But that wasn’t what caught my eye that night. What did was a kid wearing No. 18 for the Sea Kings. When this kid walked out on the field with his teammates and kicked the ball, it seemed to me the entire stadium stopped for a moment and took notice. When the ball left his foot and soared into the night sky, it seemed impossible not to pay attention.

It seemed like somehow CdM had sneaked in an NFL kicker for the night.

Amies kicked four field goals in the game: one from 48 yards out, another from 46 yards, and two others from the more reasonable distances of 29 and 22 yards. He set the school record for most field goals in a single game. They all split the uprights with room to spare and landed well past the end zone.

This kid was nothing less than a scoring weapon.  Or in non-football terms, he was simply amazing.  Everybody on both sides of the stadium that night could see that with their own eyes.

I decided I had to find out who this kid was. And how he learned to kick a football like that. First, I turned up even more stats that showed Amies was on track to break nearly every Sea King football kicking record on the books.

Amies on the sidelines, waiting for his chance to show what he can do.

The week before the Newport game he set the school record, for the second time, by kicking a 52-yard field goal.

But stats and numbers never tell the whole story.

What I was about to find out about Griff Amies would not only surprise me, but also give me some insight into why this kicking phenomenon may have developed a special drive, and the skill and motivation to excel in a way that most do not.

On the Saturday morning after the Newport Harbor-Corona Del Mar game I headed down to the Lido Theater to catch a screening of a new documentary film called “Touchdown Newport.” The film tells the story of the 1970 Newport Harbor High School football team that won the Sunset League Championship after decades of being a perennial doormat. It was an inspiring story of life’s lessons, and how sometimes one season or one incident can shape and influence the rest of your life.

As I sat down in my theater seat, a teenage kid with the kind of haircut that indicated he might be a football player was sitting only a few seats to the right of me. As we waited for the movie to start I struck up a conversation.

“You play ball?” I asked.

He said he did.

I asked if he was at Newport Harbor, and he responded, “No, I play at CdM.”

“What position?”

“Kicker.”

That response stopped me in my tracks for a second. Then I blurted out, “Dude! That was you last night?!”

He calmly smiled and said softly, “Yeah.”

I pushed my hand out and gestured to him for a high-five and said, “Nice job, bro!”

His face lit up and we proceeded to talk about the game before the lights when down and the film started. I didn’t get the chance to talk to him again after the movie ended.

Monday,  I made a call to Corona del Mar Head Football Coach Scott Myer and told him I wanted to do a story about his kicker. He told me how this kid Amies had walked on to try out for the football team after transferring from Newport Harbor High as a junior.

Myers said he had no clue what was he was about to see when he and another coach asked Amies to kick a few balls for them.  Myers says he and the other coach both just looked at each other and said, “Wow!” when they saw Amies kick.

Myers says it didn’t take but a few seconds to realize that this kid was “something special” and would be the team’s kicker.

Myers told me I needed to talk with his kicking coach, Brad Bohn.

Bohn is a former college and NFL kicker who played for the Detroit Lions. He knows what it takes to make it to the upper echelon of kicking footballs.

Bohn runs the West Coast Kicking Academy, a training facility for top football kicking prospects in Orange County.

“I have been training Griff for about six years” at the academy, Bohn said. “He started coming out to train when he was 12 and has been coming out almost every Sunday since.”

I wondered what make this kid tick; he seems to have a focus that many kids do not. Bohn agreed.

“Griff is a tremendous young man, who has worked tirelessly to perfect his skill.  What sets Griff apart from many of the athletes we have worked with over the past 10 years is his mental toughness and work ethic. Griff gets a look in his eye when under pressure that demonstrates extreme focus.  His ability to block out distractions and perform have helped him to succeed this year.  He relishes the opportunity to prove others wrong and show that he can be the best at what he does.”

Bohn say’s he thinks Amies may be going places few kickers from Newport Beach have been before.

“Griff is technically sound and his leg strength continues to improve.  He consistently puts the ball in the end zone on kickoffs and has range from beyond 55 yards on field goals.

“At the USC camp over the past four years, both Pete Carroll and special teams coach John Baxter have taken a liking to his technique and competitive spirit.  He will, without a doubt, have a good college career.”

I paid Griff a visit at Sea King practice this week and what I saw and heard not only amazed but also inspired me.

On a super-hot late afternoon I trudged out back of CdM High to see the team and Griff going through the drills of a high school football practice. The coaches were yelling, football players we running and pads and helmets were smacking.

Griff and the team ran through some kick-off drills and then Amies went off to do his own thing.

First he set up a tee and started smacking balls in simulated kick-offs.

He pointed down the field and told me, “The first (orange) cone is 55 yards, the second one is 65.”

I watched in astonishment as he again and again nailed the ball and it sailed through the hot sky to a teammate on the other end of the field.

After about 30 minutes of that kicking drill he and a teammate grabbed the movable goal posts and set up to practice field goals.

From about 50 yards out, he lit into the ball again and again, splitting the uprights each and every time. He did not miss.

He also never came up short. Every ball landed 10 yards or more beyond the goal post. Amies was kicking the ball 60-plus yards, with 100 percent accuracy. I stood in astonishment.

Then I had a talk with Griff. I asked him how he learned to kick a ball so well at such a young age.

He told me an inspiring story,

When Griff was born in 1995, a heart problem required emergency surgery to correct. His first few months of life were extremely tough ones. Ultimately, with the help of doctors at Children’s Hospital of Orange County, the love of his family, and his own will, he was able to recover.

Amies’ story was told in the local newspapers at the time. But now that long-ago tough start in life is forgotten. Griff and his dad didn’t really feel comfortable talking about it today. I understand why, others might not be so kind and understanding. Football, like life, can be a very tough game.

Nonetheless, Griff told me how his health problems as a child helped shape him as a person, giving him the impetus to develop his football kicking talent today.

“Well, when I was about 7 years old, I had to get a pacemaker put in me, … because my heart rate wasn’t going the normal speed. … So I was sitting in the hospital bed and my doctor said I couldn’t play football or get tackled, and my dad suggested, ‘Hey, why not be a kicker?’ So I figured I’d give a try, and I’ve loved it every since. I’ve been training to be a kicker my whole life.”

Now Amies seems to have only a bright football future ahead.

There’s one thing from the past that he still carries with him, and it’s hidden just inside his chest, under the pads he wears every game.

He says he doesn’t think about the pacemaker much. What he thinks about most is making that next field goal or launching a kick-off into the end zone once again and helping his team win.

CdM’s next game is tonight at Newport’s Davidson Field, against University High.  

 

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