A FEW THINGS make Sami Bullock stand out as the place-kicker for Pelion High this football season. There are those pink cleats and that 5-foot-8, 118-pound frame. There also were those school-record seven extra-point kicks two weeks ago, and the manner in which Bullock holds a helmet on the sideline as if it is a purse.
It all is for good reason. Bullock is a girl.
For the most part, you wouldnt really notice during a Pelion game. Heck, C.A. Johnson recently went most of the game without knowing a female was kicking her way into the school record book.
Woe unto the opponent who does find out and accidentally? goes after her.
I noticed when they roughed her (three) weeks ago, (her teammates) got pretty upset, Pelion coach Ben Freeman said. I think they take it as more of a challenge to try to protect her better.
Sometimes you take an extra point for granted, but knowing she is back there, they put a little more into it to try to keep people off her. I think its been a positive. They know its not that shes just kicking because shes a girl.
Bullock is kicking because she had the strongest and most accurate leg during fall tryouts despite being a 14-year-old ninth-grader. She is kicking because she has been working her right leg for this chance since she started playing soccer as a 6-year-old.
Bullocks mother, Sandy, once was president of the Lexington County Soccer League and now serves as treasurer. She has coached soccer in both recreation leagues and at the high school level.
When it came to teaching the finer points of kicking, Sandy took her daughter to the backyard of their Pelion home. That is where Sami still practices her football kicking skills by attempting to clear the 20-foot high Catawba, or Catalpa, tree. A 10-foot high goalpost crossbar pales in comparison.
Sami is likely to play varsity soccer this spring for Pelion, which will seem like a vacation compared to the schedule she is maintaining this fall as a member of both the cross country and football teams.
In cross country, she finished fourth in a recent meet. Meets are on Wednesdays, which is the one day she is permitted to miss football practice. On football game days, usually Friday, she is allowed to miss cross country practice. Otherwise, she gets out of school, runs with the cross country team, then heads to the football practice field to work with Parrish Deans, the special teams coach.
Deans has proved to be a guru for female place-kickers. In 2008, Pelion fielded two female place-kickers under Deans direction, and Elizabeth Mitchum and Kaci Poole were believed to be the first girls to score points for the same team in a varsity football game in South Carolina, possibly the nation.
When Deans was teaching at the middle school, Bullock approached him about wanting to one day kick for the varsity football team. Bullock, a sixth-grader at the time, had seen Mitchum and Poole kick for the Pelion varsity.
When it comes to kicking, whether its a soccer ball or a football, youre obviously getting trained in kicking, Deans says. We laugh. (Her mother) taught her how to kick the real football. Ive taught her how to kick the American football.
Bullocks strength is her accuracy. Of the three extra-points she has missed in 16 attempts, one was blocked. She has not attempted a field-goal, but has hit from 35 yards in practice. As her leg strengthens, she likely will become better at powering the ball through the uprights.
Yet maintaining accuracy and improving strength are the least of her concerns. The real issues have been with learning how to properly wear the football uniform and pads. Bullock wears pads only for games, and she has been known to forget her knee pads while struggling to feel comfortable in the girdle and hip pads.
Every Friday, weve got to re-do it, Deans says with a laugh. I told her if she can get it right one time, Ill buy her lunch.
There also could be issues with the pink cleats and the unorthodox helmet toting, although Bullocks teammates do not seem to mind. When Bullock saw Alex Morgan wear pink cleats for the USA womens soccer team, she immediately sought to purchase a pair at an area sporting goods store. And who really cares that she looks a little prissy on the sideline with the helmet?
As long as she continues to boot the ball through the uprights, her teammates and the Pelion coaching staff have her back. Quite frankly, it is OK with everyone from Freeman to Deans to the players if Bullock keeps distinguishing herself from others for another three seasons after this one.
Watch commentaries by Morris Mondays at 6 and 11 p.m. on ABC Columbia News (WOLO-TV)