Onside Kicks Are Worth the Risk/Reward

By Jeremy Craig Mandolini, FNF Coaches Contributor

In high school football, most of the focus is on the so-called skilled positions of quarterbacks, running backs, and receivers on offensive and linebackers and coverage guys on defense. Rarely are the specialists given much attention in this division of football. However, special teams are any team that deals with kicking the ball, and rarely will a game be played with only two kicks being made in it. Nevertheless, many high school programs only focus on the essential aspects of the kicking game–extra points and deep kick-offs. Occasionally, a two point conversion will be practiced and maybe an on-side attempt run in practice once or twice a year which brings me to the topic of this article, 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.

As a special teams coach, I tested the theory of kicking on-side kicks more often throughout a game as a regular kickoff strategy by using data collected from the past seven years at my local high school and film stored in Hudl. I tested to see what the average starting position on a football drive was based from a normal deep kickoff versus a non-recovered on-side kick. Another factor considered was the chance for the opposing team to run the ball back for a touchdown. I used data to show the statistical probability of a deep kickoff being run back for a touchdown versus an on-side kick being returned. The return team, in high school, typically returns the ball to just within a first down of where a failed on-side kick is recovered. This is stating, by risking a first down you receive a chance for the offense to have another possession to score. This is based on the data showing the percentage of time teams scored when they recovered an on-side kick and the data if the on-side kick was not recovered and the opposing team scored on the ensuing drive. There were many factors which had to be taken into consideration such as wind, rain, temperature, and even the lighting on the field.

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