When he was first introduced to American football, there weren’t really a lot of things that Thailand native Piyaphum Soengkang knew about the sport. He just knew that he was a kicker and that was what he planned to do, kick.
But during his first season as kicker for Orlando East River High School last year, Phum, as everyone calls him, didn’t do much kicking. And in turn, it helped him learn a lot about American football.
It helped him learn about what he does not like about it.
“Power-I … I do not like Power-I,” said Phum, who was at Nick Fleming’s All-American Kicking Camp at Dr. Phillips High on Saturday.
That’s the play most often called in the past by East River coach Marc Rankin when the Falcons were facing fourth-down-and-short-yardage situations. And he’s hoping this year that call will be made less often.
“DeShawn Dexter and Keith Clements ... they gone now,” says Phum, who is still working on his English skills. He moved to the United States with his family five years ago when he was a 12-year-old seventh-grader. “They graduated, so no more Power-I.”
He said he hopes the team kicks more this season.
“We go for it. I hope.”
Rankin says he’s ready for the kicker to step up and take charge.
“If we can trust him at practice enough to put him out there during a game we’ll do that,” said Rankin. “He was hit-or-miss last year, and there were a lot of times where we’d go for it, especially with that offensive line we had. But we’ll definitely depend on him a bit more this year. We’re not going to be that big up front as we have been.”
Hard to argue that logic. East River linemen averaged 6-foot-4, 289 pounds across the offensive front last season, anchored by all-stater Adam Duckett, who stands 6-foot-9 and weighs about 350 pounds, depending on what meal he just ate.
The lone O-line holdover this year will be 6-1, 265-pound senior Jacob Bear, so the Falcons will be inexperienced up front, as well.
Kicking options have not been a luxury for Rankin, who heads into his third year as head coach at the fourth-year school.
“We just haven’t had one. We’ve even had a couple of girls kicking for us ... Brittany Lacey was a couple of years ago ... and Kayla Harmon,” Rankin said of a pair of soccer players recruited to kick for the Falcons in 2009 and 2010.
"Phum is really the first true kicker we’ve had, but even with him we weren’t sure how serious he was about football.”
Phum, who does not play soccer but might this upcoming season, runs around with a smile on his face all the time. It’s understandable that he may come across as somewhat whimsical, but that’s just part of being surrounded by a culture and language with which he is still getting familiar. He’s made huge social strides since taking up football kicking.
And since he’s started working with Nick Fleming, he’s also making strides as a kicker.
When I first met Phum, he was booting easy 45-yard field goals in practice … with no form or technique. Just booming the ball.
Now he’s getting coached and will soon be a force as he continues to find his consistency.
“He definitely has the leg,” Fleming said. “He’s just one of those guys who has that natural ability. Now he just needs to hone it and focus on the little things that keep him from being great.”
“He helps me a lot,” Phum says of Fleming. “He helps me with my skill and where you have to kick the ball … the sweet spot. Make the ball go farther.”
He was hitting the sweet spot pretty well on Saturday and missed winning the field goal competition when his 50-yard attempt bounced off the crossbar. The winner was former West Orange quarterback/kicker Sean Kelly, who will walk-on as a kicker at FAU this fall.
Rankin would be happy to just see a non-returnable kickoff.
“Defensively, you can’t even put into words what it would mean to be able to put the ball in the end zone to start a series with the ball at the 20 instead of the 50,” Rankin said. “We’ve seen too much of that the past few years.
“He really seems excited about it now and you can tell he has some talent. He just needs to fine-tune his skills. The kids really like him and this is really the first thing that he’s been involved with here at East River. He gets along real well with the kids. He was a little lost when he first came out but now he leads us in one of our warm-up chants. The kids really get a kick out of it.”
No pun intended, but of course Phum is hoping to get plenty of kicks out of them, as well.
“I hope he lets me kick this time,” Phum said of Rankin. “A lot more than last year.”
He’s also hoping to see his leg carry him to a college scholarship. He won’t be leaving the state though, he said.
“I don’t want to get away from my family.”