It all happens in about a second — the center snaps the football six yards backward to the holder, who aligns the ball for the kicker, waiting three steps away.
A pressure addict, the kicker trots forward with the team’s hopes riding upon his leg flexors, as toe meets pigskin with a satisfying “thump” and sails 20 yards for the extra point, another second later.
If all goes well — the norm for Canyon Del Oro kicker Nick Marshall — it’s just one more notch added to his current run of perfection, 90 successful point-after attempts.
Yet while Marshall could run kickers’ rituals in his sleep, he’s missed all five of his field goal attempts on the year.
Last week, before he planted his 89th and 90th extra points against Catalina Foothills, the senior admitted the disparity bugged him.
“My head’s just going crazy right now, just so much expectations and stuff,” Marshall said.
“I don’t remember what I was doing last year, but everything was straight for me,” he added. “Every ball I hit was just golden.”
In the scheme of all things Marshall, the three-point drought is likely a mental fluke.
Boasting a Midas touch in the form of natural athleticism, CDO coaches hoped Marshall would start as wide receiver during his sophomore year, when he decided to forego the gridiron and focus on the game he’d played since age 2 — soccer.
Though he led his club team to win last summer’s nationals in Virginia, Marshall came back to Dorado football in 2007. That’s when coaches bridged his sporting gap, and handed him a video of place-kicking tips.
Without a full-time special teams coach on staff, Marshall taught himself most of the position’s quirks.
Still, the key difference between his two pastimes could reveal what’s amiss.
“The thing with soccer, I get so many chances to redeem myself if I make a mistake,” Marshall said. “With football, you miss a field goal and you’re thinking about it for the rest of the game.”
Dorado staffers can only scratch their heads when “one of the better athletes here at this school” bangs a 55-yard field goal during practice, only to clip attempts half that distance during games, said head coach Pat Nugent.
“He’s got the yips, like a golfer who can’t make that short putt,” Nugent said. “We’re not sure what to do with it. But as soon as he makes one, he’ll be fine.”
In July, Marshall did well enough at a University of Arizona kicker camp to impress Wildcats special teams coordinator Jeff Hammerschmidt with his leg strength — which recently launched a 72-yard punt against McClintock.
“He kicked the heck out of it,” Hammerschmidt said.
Though Hammerschmidt believes Marshall’s got the salt to kick on the collegiate level, he cites Marshall’s mechanical glitches as a potential scholarship’s sole hangup.
But there’s one thing Marshall does well that separates stellar kickers from the passable.
“The great ones find a way to work in with the chemistry of the team,” Hammerschmidt said.
God-given abilities are one way Marshall fits in with many teammates, whom he’s known since sneaking away from recess monitors in sixth grade. But where past histories run shallow, the affable Marshall’s ever-handy one-liners fill in.
“Sometimes I get into trouble for it, saying things I shouldn’t say,” Marshall smiled. “But in the end, it’s all right.”
Quick-draw humor can also insulate a guy from mistakes, when the team’s riding on his right foot. When the Dorados lost to Glendale Cactus earlier this year by one point, Marshall had missed a 21-yarder in the first quarter.
Now the routine is 40 field goal kicks a day, to chase the perfect sensation of planting the ball just right.
“You can always tell when you hit the ball perfect. You don’t have to look up,” Marshall said.
The night when this season’s first successful three-point kick sails through the poles, off Marshall’s toe, still hangs unknown. The kicker does know that, given the choice, he’ll chase a football scholarship instead of one for soccer.
Part of the choice comes from soccer’s long and grueling collegiate season. But much of Marshall’s attraction stems from the spotlight — the pressure of having the game rest on his jersey.
He’s used to coming through. For the moment, it’s just a waiting game.
“My coaches just tell me to go out there and have fun,” Marshall said. “When I was having fun last year, I was doing fine.”