When River Hill's football team scores a touchdown, the Hawks can be pretty sure they'll get that seventh point. Alex Potocko has hit 52 of 53 extra-point attempts this fall and set a school record with 121 in his career.
The senior kicker, a two-time All-Howard County selection, also has sent 56 of 68 kickoffs into the end zone. In a 49-0 win over City in the regional playoffs, all nine of his kickoffs were touchbacks. On field goals, he's 2-for-4 with a season-best of 38 yards for the two-time defending state Class 3A champions, who play in the state semifinals Friday night at Linganore.
Potocko, who has a 4.0 weighted GPA, has gotten attention from college coaches at all levels, but he plans to wait until after the season to consider his options. He plans to join the Hawks' wrestling team for the first time this winter.
How did you become a kicker?
I was 4 years old and watching my first Super Bowl — the St. Louis Rams — and seeing the kicker. My parents tell me I said it was really cool and my grandma said, "You should do that when you're older." I used to throw the ball around with my dad when I was little and when I was 7, I would go out with my family and just kick footballs. I was so little I don't even know it I could make it.
When did you start kicking in organized football?
When I was 9, I started playing Terps football, local tackle football, and at that point, I could make it through the uprights. It's a big deal when you're in the younger leagues, because they count as two points, because less people can do it. When people saw that I could actually do it at such a young age, I barely remember it, but it was a really big deal.
Have you ever kicked a last-second field goal?
Junior year, there was one second left in the [first] half for our homecoming game. It was a 37-yarder from the left and I made that. That's the closest to last second I've ever gotten, but it was really cool. It was just like that picture-perfect moment. We were winning — I think by a lot — and it was homecoming night, so it's a pretty memorable experience.
What is your longest field goal in a game?
Thirty-eight yards this year against Howard. In practice, 55 which is on the video [Sports Breakdown: How to Kick a Field Goal with Howard County Times sports reporter Andrew Conrad]. Andrew Conrad made 45 and I was like, "Oh, my God. He's actually really good." Then I made 50 and he didn't, so I backed it up to 55 and I got it on my first try. It was close, but I got it.
What's been the kicking highlight of this season?
Just overall, I feel that I'm benefiting the team so much more. Last year, I think I was a good high school kicker. I'd kick off to the 5- or 10-yard line, deep left corner 80 percent of the time and that was my job. I couldn't hit touchbacks, so [the coaches] were like, "Kick it to the left back corner and we'll try to pin them back." This year, with being able to put it in the end zone a lot more, I feel like it gets in the other team's heads. I've seen kids get frustrated because they can't run it out. We've all worked really hard and with PATs and field goals, I trust my team and they always tell me, "Take your time. We're going to block for you," so it's working out well.
What's the longest field goal you've attempted?
Forty-one Forty one yards against Glenelg this year. It's a moment that I learned a lot from. Luckily, the team pulled through and we won, but it was the first game of the season, 0-0 in the fourth four quarter and I totally lost sight of what I needed to get done. I understand I'll get nervous, but I needed to just concentrate and slow down, trust my team that they were going to block for me and I ended up rushing it, barely let [holder Drew Pritchard] get it down and when something like that happens I can't get a good kick off.
Is there a pro kicker you look up to or try to emulate?
Adam Vinatieri, ever since I was young. He had a game-winning Super Bowl kick and I remember watching it. He was just that clutch kicker. Seeing him when I was young maybe was part of the inspiration.
What are you most thankful for?
I'm most thankful for my parents. They have continually pushed me to do better in everything I do, kicking or not kicking. They always try to have me do my best, and really I'm so grateful I have them in my life, pushing me to do better.
What is your Thanksgiving tradition?
My parents and I normally host my grandparents and uncles and cousins, but it looks like this year [because of the weather], it's just going to be us, maybe my grandparents. And if it is just us, that's fine. It'll be a calm Thanksgiving before a huge game.