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Rare boot in Natoma

By CONOR NICHOLL

cnicholl@dailynews.net

NATOMA - Natoma High School senior Jackson Meiers attended a Kansas State University camp this summer. Meiers was pleased with his performance and said he ranked in the top-six or seven among kickers.

When people inquired about his hometown, Meiers said he played for the Tigers, an Eight-Man Division II school. They asked Meiers, "Oh, you kick in eight-man?"

"Yep," Meiers said. "Only one."

Eight-man kicking is an extreme rarity, and few Kansas teams, regardless of class, have a talent like Meiers, who has kicked for Natoma since his freshman season. Meiers earned all-league and all-state honors from multiple publications last year.

"It was different, but I liked it, seeing that his leg was so strong," senior Elijah Holmes said. "I just thought, 'He is a good kicker, I think that he is one of the best.' "

Before last year, Meiers didn't use his leg much. Then, former Natoma coach Fred Winter put Meiers' leg to the test. Meiers impressed and started to kick extra points and field goals. He rarely missed and even kicked a 40-yarder against Stockton. Meiers has received interest from the likes of Auburn, Duke, Harvard and Fort Hays State University, but might decide to stay home and work the family's cattle farm.

"No one ever thinks we are going to going to kick it," Meiers said. " 'Oh, it's a bluff. They are going to run it.' Then, everyone is like, 'Oooh, he can kick it through the uprights.'"

In addition, Meiers, a three-year starter in basketball and two-time state placer in the Class 1A long jump, might be the area's fastest player.

"Very quick and explosive," senior running back Cale Hooper said. "If he gets past that first level, and he makes one cut past the second level, I don't think there is one kid in the state of Kansas that can catch him because he is so quick and shifty. That's definitely an advantage for us."

He has normally played wide receiver, but moved to tailback late last season and collected around 400 yards in the final three games. Meiers could see time at tailback (his favorite position), receiver, and quarterback, punt, kickoff and return kicks.

"You never know where I am going, and neither do I usually," Meiers said. "My line gets kind of mad because I don't follow the blocks good. Whatever gets the yards."

Meiers, Holmes and Hooper - entering his third season as a full-time starter - look to help Natoma improve from last season's 3-6 record and post the program's first winning season since 2008.

"We are focused on going in there and just showing the state of Kansas that we are not just going to roll over on our back this year like we have in previous years," Hooper said.

Natoma will use a variety of offenses, including the pistol and read-option. Junior Triton Frye will see the majority of time under center for a speedy, quick team.

"In eight-man football, if they have got to worry about two or three kids, it's gets a lot easier for us," first-year coach Aaron Homburg, the former veteran defensive coordinator, said. "If all they are worried about is one, two, coaching defense for 17 years, we can shut down two kids, four and five is a lot tougher. Luckily, we have some kids with some speed, and several kids that can run the ball, several kids that can throw the ball and several kids that can catch the ball.

"As long as we can block and get open, we will be all right."

Meiers grew up in Kansas City and played traveling soccer. He went to several states, including Arkansas, Missouri and Kansas. His grandparents live in Natoma and Hays and the family moved back for Meiers' ninth grade year. Few northwest Kansas schools have soccer, so Meiers decided to put his leg to use on the football field. His leg strength comes from genetics and plenty of practice. Meiers has an aunt who is 5-foot-3 and around 90 pounds, but can squat 250-plus pounds. Meiers weighed 120 as a freshman and between 150 and 155 now. He can squat 345 pounds.

"Squatting is kind of my thing," Meiers said.

In his first two seasons, Natoma went for two points under then-coach Ben Labertew. Meiers did execute a perfect late-game onside kick in a 30-22 home loss to Palco as a freshman. Between his sophomore and junior seasons, Meiers grew and now continually boots kickoffs into the end zone. He hit a 55-yard field goal in practice that hit off a bench beyond the goalpost. Homburg said if Meiers doesn't have a kickoff land in the end zone, "something is wrong." On the second day of camp, Meiers displayed his usual pinpoint accuracy.

"Jack can stand there and probably 99 out of 100 of them through," Homburg said. "It's an automatic, and if they don't respect that, they can run two-point out of that."