Pulaski Academy has garnered national attention for its unorthodox “Never Punt and Always Onside Kick” style of play. Former head coach Kevin Kelley, who now holds the same position at Presbyterian College, adapted this philosophy based on an MIT study which is discussed in episode 6 of our podcast “Gridiron Icons: Arkansas’ Greatest High School Coaches.”
Just a decade ago, the Bruins were playing at Cabot and scored on four straight drives taking a 29-0 lead before Cabot’s offense was able to see the field. I witnessed a similar scenario unfold with my own eyes in last year’s 5A state title game, the third straight year PA and Little Rock Christian battled for the championship.
Pulaski Academy recovered the opening onside kickoff at the Little Rock Christian 46, but fumbled in the red zone a couple of plays later. Fast-forward to halftime, the Bruins had recovered 4 onsides and led by a commanding score of 43-13.
Running Back Joe Himon earned game MVP honors with 203 total yards and 4 touchdowns, but kicker Vaughn Seelicke’s ability to bounce his kicks were highly praised during the post-game press conferences: “We started doing it because it’s a weapon,” Kelley said. “We started doing it a long time ago, this year we had good and bad spots.
As this is being written prior to the 2021 season, PA is 136-5 when they recover one onside kick, 59-1 when they recover two, and unbeaten when they get three or more.
Coming off of a successful junior season, Seelicke is ready to finish off his high school career strong under a somewhat new coaching regime. Most of the staff returns, with Anthony Lucas taking over as head coach after coaching wide receivers the last nine seasons.
Seelicke converted 35 of 37 (95%) extra points last season including a perfect 4-4 field goals. He currently has offers from Hendrix College and Grinnell College, but told me he has been in contact with various schools around the country.
He began playing soccer at a very young age and in 5th grade took an interest in football learning the art of kicking through YouTube videos. “I had always played because my friends did, but I was never really a football player at heart,” Vaughn said. “Whenever someone told me I could kick the football and still hang out with my friends, it was an easy draw.”
As a kicker for the Bruins’ middle school team, Seelicke caught Kelley’s eye for his ability to effectively bounce onside kicks: “He came to one of our games in 9th grade against Maumelle,” Seelicke stated. “We recovered 5 in the game and he met me in the parking lot afterwards, then pulled me up for the game the next day.” Seelicke had a setback his sophomore year suffering a broken back after two games that sidelined him for the season and classmate Savannah Godwin handled the kicking duties.
Pulaski Academy has eight or nine onside kicks to its disposal, but mainly utilize four of them:
Normal Copter: Not on the tee and spins along the ground, tough to catch
Jet Copter: Variation of the Normal Copter, but on the tee and kicked harder
Normal NBA: Run & bounce before it gets to the line of scrimmage, a “jump ball”, and a slower version of that simply titled “Slow NBA.”
Despite the movement in the coaching staff, Seelicke has said his continued development has been consistent.
“Coach Kelley was instrumental in helping me strive for perfection because anything less is not tolerated,” Seelicke said. “With the new staff, it has been seamless. There is tons of new, young energy and I think it is a really exciting time for everyone to have new philosophies in the system. It has been a very smooth transition.”
Though he had a perfect 100% field goal percentage last season, I asked if there was any added pressure going into games for those attempts seeing as he only did it four times: “I would say no,” Seelicke stated. “I do it a lot on my own and also have been attending national kicking showcases and getting ranked, so that has helped to calm my nerves going up against national competition. For me it is exciting when we call a field goal knowing that I do not get to do many of these, so I better put it through.”
Seelicke is currently ranked as a 4.5 star by Prokicker and a 4 star by Kohl’s Kicking. For both camps, they do not do onside kicks. Kohl’s rankings are based off of the field goals you make and deep kicks, however the coaches can bump you up depending on how they feel about your potential. On the contrary, Prokicker’s rankings are based solely off numbers you produce. Seelicke also takes care of his business in the classroom boasting a 4.18 GPA and a 33 on the ACT.
Published by Kyle Sutherland, k_sutherlandHTP on Twitter