This section is from the book "A Scientific And Practical Treatise On American Football For Schools And Colleges", by A. Alonzo Stagg, Henry L. Williams. Don't miss: The Blind Side: Evolution of a Game.
In practicing, do not keep the leg rigid through all the swing. The muscles must be sufficiently lax to make the swing easy, the rigid contraction coming just before the foot reaches the ball.
The angle at which the ball is kicked can be regulated by elevating or lowering the point of the ball farthest away from the body, or by dropping the ball in such a way that the position of the foot in the arc described by it shall regulate the direction which the ball shall take. If the kicker wishes to make a high kick, he drops the ball so that the foot reaches it when knee high or above, and when he wishes to make a low kick he allows the ball to get closer to the ground before his foot meets it. By trial, it will be found that a point varying from about six inches above to six inches below the height of the knee is the place of greatest convenience and power.
After punting and drop kicking has once been learned, the whole practice should be centered on kicking quickly. The ball should be caught, adjusted, dropped, and kicked just as quickly as possible. In practicing this, it will be found expedient to have several balls for the quarterback to pass. After practicing for a few weeks in this way the full-back will find that he can stand considerably nearer the rush line and still avoid having the ball blocked.
The drop kick is made by dropping the ball on one of the small ends and kicking it with the toe at the instant it rises from the ground. Some kickers prefer to have the ball lean toward them at a slight angle as it strikes, others to have the ball lean slightly toward the goal, and still others drop it with the long axis vertical. The latter style is most commonly used. Practice in all these will determine in which position the foot meets the ball most naturally. The ball should be kicked with a free and easy, though quick, swing of the leg. If close under the goal the kick may be made more quickly with a short half swing, whereas in punting the leg is swung from the hip and the large abdominal muscles of the body brought strongly into play. In drop kicking very accurate, rapid, and effective work can be accomplished when the swing is made almost altogether from the knee joint with only a slight swing from the hip. Beginners frequently make a great mistake in drawing the foot far back in preparation for a long drop kick. By extending the leg below the knee quickly and suddenly, so that the point of the toe will meet the ball at the instant it rises from the ground, great distance can be attained with little apparent outlay of force.
It requires a great deal of practice to be quick and accurate at the same time. The full back should place himself a little farther from his rush line in attempting the drop kick than in punting, because the ball starts lower and it is not so easy to control the angle it takes.
In trying for a goal from a place kick the ball should be brought out to a spot from which the angle to the goal and the distance from it are most favorable for the trial. If the touchdown is made directly behind the goal, or near it, the ball should not be carried far out into the field. A point should be selected where there will be no danger of the opposing rushers stopping the ball and from which it will be easy to kick the goal. Some men prefer to make the trial from a point not more than ten yards away, while others carry the ball out fifteen or twenty yards. The former, always make a quick half swing of the leg in kicking, lifting upward with the foot as they kick; the latter usually kick with the leg swinging full and free from the hip.
The ball should be held between the outstretched hands of the quarter-back or some other player as he lies extended flat upon his stomach. The best way of holding the ball is to place the fingers of one hand behind it about three inches from the lower end, the fingers of the other hand being placed at a corresponding point at the top and slightly in front of the ball. The ball should be held in firm but easy balance, and the fingers should be so placed that it will be easy to turn it and least interfere with it when placing it down for a kick. Great care must be given to holding the ball steady.
When the spot has been selected from which the trial is to oe made, and the player who is to holl the ball has prostrated himself in firm balance on the ground, at right angles to the line of direction, and on the right or left side of the kicker, according to the foot which he is to use, the ball being properly held between the fingers with the elbows resting on the ground, the kicker must proceed to sight the ball. He first asks the holder to turn the lacing of the ball toward him; next he tells him how he wishes the ball to point and at what angle, if any, using such expressions as "head forward" and "head up," meaning that the ball is to be tipped away from the kicker in the first instance and held vertically in the second. Other expressions like "head out" and " head in " indicate that the point of the ball is to be moved in or out in reference to the player holding it.
The sighting of the ball toward the goal can be done best by using the lacings as a guide, the holder being directed to twist the ball out or in, in reference to himself, by the expressions "lacings out," "lacings in." When the ball has been well aimed and everything is ready the kicker should tell the holder to " touch it down," at the same time moving forward to kick. In touching the ball down the holder must be very careful not to change the position. As the ball touches the ground the lower hand is removed in order not to interfere with its course. It is well to remove beforehand all pebbles or tufts of grass at the spot selected for placing the ball down, for a slight unevenness is often sufficient to prevent a goal.
The kicker should keep his eye on some point on the ball as he steps forward and aim to kick it in that spot. Practice beforehand will determine the best place to give the impetus. When the ball is vertical this spot will be found by trial to be very near the ground; when the ball leans toward the kicker the best point for the kick is just below the lacing. The height of the point above the ground is nearly the same in both cases, but the point on the ball changes as the ball leans. If there is a wind blowing the kicker must take into consideration its force and direction in pointing the ball.
In catching kicked balls and long passes, it is usually-better to catch them with the arms. Every effort should be made to take the ball when about waist high, for at that point the arms can be better adjusted to it. The body also, here much softer, can at this part be drawn in to form a sort of pocket, as it were, for the ball. Care must be taken not to have the ball strike high up on the chest, for it is then difficult to shape the arms well to receive it and the ball rebounds much quicker from its firm walls.
There are two ways of catching with the arms. In one, the arms work in conjunction with the body, the latter being used to stop the ball while the arms close around it. In this style, one hand and forearm should be held lower than the point of contact with the body, while the other hand and forearm should be held above that point. The arms should be bent and should not usually be extended far from the body. In the other case, the ball is caught entirely with the arms and hands. This can be done only when it is kicked well into the air. The arms are held parallel in front of the body about six inches apart, being half bent at the elbows and wrists. The instant the ball strikes, the hands are curled forward over it. The fault of catching in this way usually lies in the catcher failing to bring his elbows near enough together and so leaving a space for the ball to go through.
In nearly all plays the backs, from the nature of their duties, are among the first men to start. Their position behind the line renders their every motion conspicuous, and the watchful rushers upon the opposing team will be upon the constant lookout for some movement, glance, or position of the body that betrays the direction of the play which is about to be executed. On this account the backs should take the greatest precaution to conceal their intentions. It is of assistance sometimes in deceiving the opponents to assume a position as if being about to go in one direction when an entirely different move is intended, but if this is practiced too frequently it will defeat its own end.