The nose of a football stood 37 yards from the field-goal posts on the Shawnee Mission East practice field. Parker Willis took three steps backwards, then three steps to his left.
Snap. Hold. Kick.
He sailed the attempt through the middle of the uprights. Plenty of room to spare, too. But it wasn’t enough to impress the onlookers — a group of cross country runners who had met for workouts on the surrounding track.
“Scoot it back,” one of them yelled.
“Must be warmups,” shouted another.
This is the aftermath of a record-setting kick.
A week ago, Willis drilled a 56-yard field goal as time expired in the first half of Shawnee Mission East’s 59-6 win against Shawnee Mission North.
It was inconsequential in the outcome. It’s forever lasting elsewhere. Willis broke the school record with the kick, and he was only 1 yard shy of tying a Kansas high school state mark.
Needless to say, he’s raised the bar. He’s suddenly a recognizable face and name inside the school, where hardly an hour has passed this week without someone mentioning it to him. They’ve seen the highlights circulate across social media.
“It’s been a fun week,” he said with a shy smile.
On Thursday, in the middle of practice, the Lancers turned toward their field-goal drills. Willis made six in a row before pulling a 43-yarder wide left.
“What’s up with you today?” a coach joked after the miss.
Lancers head coach Dustin Delaney says Willis is “a weapon I’ve never had before.” And at least so far in 2017, he’s using him like it.
Willis, a junior, did not even attempt a field goal last season. He’s a perfect 7 for 7 this year, and he’s made all 21 of his extra-point attempts.
Not bad considering how it all started. Willis had never kicked a football before his freshman season. He was a soccer player all of his childhood.
A few weeks into Willis’ freshman year, Delaney used the football team Twitter account to solicit a new kicker. “Any soccer players wanna come try out?”
Willis was one of the few to show up. His technique kicking a soccer ball didn’t quite translate, at least not immediately.
“I was pretty bad,” he said. “But (Delaney) was like, ‘You’re really bad right now on technique. But I can tell you’ll be good eventually.’”
Three seasons later, Willis has quit soccer to focus exclusively on kicking footballs. He attends annual camps all over the country, including an invite-only camp in Wisconsin last summer. There are dreams of playing for a Division-I program, and Delaney believes he will have no problem doing it.
“Never had anyone like him before,” Delaney said. “He is beyond my coaching ability. We don’t have anyone who really even coaches kickers. We just kind of let him do his own thing during practice. Then he joins us as the end, and he’s kicking 60-yarders.”
Delaney and Willis both focused on that number. After making a 56-yard boot, it’s only natural to eye the record of 57. But Willis wants more. He wants 60.
In the moments leading up to his school record-breaking make, Delaney told Willis to warm up in case the offense approached field-goal range before halftime. Willis was unaware that Delaney would consider 57 yards field-goal range.
The ball cleared the uprights by nearly 10 yards.
“I was just happy he gave me the chance to do it,” Willis said. “I’m ready for the next one now.”