5 Factors That Prove Onside Kicks Are Worth the Risk

Editor’s note: Craig Mandolini is the special teams coach for St. Joseph Catholic High (Miss.). He recently wrote a paper for his capstone to complete a Master’s degree that focused on how onside kicks should be used more frequently in high school football for a strategic advantage.

Through my research, I’ve found one strategy coaches are not using enough is the intentional use of the on-side kick as an offensive weapon.

On-side kicks are commonly thought of as the “last chance desperation attempt” to win. Many coaches are afraid the use the on-side kick more often because of the traditional understanding of field position. I would like to debunk this myth in an effort to get more coaches looking at the advantages of using the on-side kick at any time of the game, even the opening kickoff.

Onside kicks can be an effective weapon in the high school game for the following reasons.

Field position. Our opponent’s average starting field position for the past seven years when we onside kick and do not recover is their own 45 yard line. When we kick deep, their average starting field position is their own 37 yard line. The average field position different of 8 yards is worth the risk of earning another possession.

Return factor. Over the last seven years, deep kicks have been returned for touchdowns 30 percent of the time. By comparison, no onside kicks have been returned for a touchdown over the same period.

Recovery factor. Over a seven-year period, our team recovered 57.9 percent of our onside kicks. By comparison, we never caused a change of possession on a deep kick.

Momentum swing. Over the seven-year period, we scored on 86.1 percent of our possessions following a recovered onside kick.

Outside factors. These are also factors to consider when deciding whether to kick deep or onside kick: Wind can aid or restrict the ball, so field position will be affected by heavy winds. Rain can soften the ground and not allow for as much bounce from the onside kick and can affect the roll of the ball. However, it also makes the ball harder to hold on to and allows a better chance for a fumble.  Temperature can dry out the ground or in winter freeze the ground. In both cases, the ground is harder than normal and can cause a high bounce that affects the roll of the ball. Lighting can be dim and that affects how well the opposing team can pick up the ball when it is bouncing.

The chart below breaks down each season’s statistics.


Year 2010 2011 2012 2013 2014 2015 2016
Record 3-8 7-5 9-4 6-5 7-5 9-2 10-3
Opponent’s Average Record 5-6 6-6 6-5 5-6 6-6 6-6 7-5
Touchdowns Scored 26 53 59 51 62 70 78
On-side Kick Attempts 13 39 59 48 50 67 75
On-side Kicks Recovered 6 19 42 32 31 40 39
Percentage of Recovery 46 48 71.2 66.6 62 59.7 52
Deep Kicks 13 14 0 3 12 3 3
Average Starting Field Position (Recovered) +47 +46 +47 +45 +46 +39 +38
Average Starting Field Position (Failed) -49 -49 -48 -45 -47 -40 -39
Touchdowns Scored From Recovery of On-side Kick 5 16 38 26 26 36 35
Opponents Score from Deep Kick Off 10 5 0 2 0 0 1