Retiring Poklemba got a kick out of football

Cap Poklemba's kicking career began almost by accident.

During his senior year at McDonogh in the fall of 1998, Poklemba was playing on the soccer team when football coach Dom D'Amico asked if he could kick a football. Poklemba walked out to the practice field with D'Amico, blasted a few balls a long way and got a job he didn't know much about.

He knows a little more now. Poklemba, 34, won a championship with an indoor league team in Harrisburg last season after being lured from retirement. He says he plans to retire for good after this season; Poklemba won't play in the Stampede's season finale Friday vs. the Alabama Hammer in Huntsville, Ala.

"I have other things that are more important than playing football and of course, I work very hard [at school]," Poklemba said. "I just play football because I enjoy it."

When Poklemba got his first kicking job at McDonogh, he wasn't exactly a football expert.

"I didn't know the first thing about kicking a football," Poklemba said. "I just winged it."

Still, he fared well on kickoffs, made a few field goals and did well enough for D'Amico — still McDonogh's coach — to earn a football scholarship to Temple. Poklemba kicked there for four years, through 2002.

When he didn't get invited to an NFL camp, he turned his gaze to indoor and semiprofessional football, where he'd toil for the next 10 years while working full-time as Gerstell's athletic director. His longest stint came with a semipro team in Frederick that played outdoors.

Poklemba told them he'd retire after 2012, his fifth season with the team.

But team officials asked Poklemba if, as a favor, he'd come back for a few games in early 2013. He kicked in three games, but it was the final one — in which he went 5-for-5 — that got Poklemba his next job.

A Harrisburg Stampede coach was in attendance and since the team's kicker just suffered a season-ending knee injury, the team called Poklemba and got him to agree to join their indoor team with one game left in their spring season. He did so and then stayed on for two playoff games.

The Stampede — owned by New Orleans Saints receiver Marques Colston — made it to the finals. Poklemba kicked a few key field goals and had a timely "uno" in the title game — where the kickoff goes through the uprights on the approximately 60-yard field — and was named the Offensive Player of the Game in Harrisburg's 57-42 victory over Cape Fear (N.C.).

"He was huge for us in that game," Harrisburg coach Bernie Nowotarski said. "He was huge for us just coming in. He fit in instantly. I know guys feel weird sometimes coming in late, but he was a perfect match."

Poklemba told them afterward that he was finished. He'd earned a ring, and wanted to end his career that way. Nowotarski and the Stampede didn't.

The coach he began "working on" the kicker on the bus ride back from the championship game, and eventually Poklemba gave in and agreed to return for 2014.

The season would not be so successful. With one game to play, the Stampede are 4-7 — last place in the Professional Indoor Football League's National Conference. He kicked 18 unos this season, made 76 percent of his extra points — the goal posts are just eight feet wide — and was one of the league's top kickers.

A career as an athletic director, middle school soccer coach and perhaps baseball coach await.

Al Poklemba doesn't seem all that surprised that his son's kicking career lasted so long..

He saw that career begin at McDonogh while coach the varsity baseball team — he returned to that job last year — and knows how much Cap enjoyed it.

"It's good for him; he loves the game," Al Poklemba said. "He's a competitor, there's no question about it. He loves the pressure."

Cap Poklemba made his last game special in another way last Saturday night: He surprised his girlfriend with a marriage proposal at halftime.

She said yes, and now Kristin Hill and Poklemba are looking toward their life together, one that won't include football for the first time in a long time.

"I've had a wonderful 15-year football career ... it is now time to spend time with my daughter, fiancee and her son and enjoy watching them grow," he said. "It has been an incredible run, and I can't thank my family, friends and coaches enough for their support over the years."

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