INDIAN TRAIL Matt Wogan is in seventh grade at Porter Ridge Middle School. He’s played soccer since he was 4, but this is his first season of football. The sixth-grade punter is booting the ball to him and Wogan can’t throw as far as the sixth-grader can kick. So the punter asks Wogan to bring the ball to him.
Repeatedly running the ball back to the punter isn’t football as Wogan envisions it. So he punts. Coach Jeff Newton turns as the ball is in the air and watches it sail higher and farther than a middle-school punt has a right to.
Newton asks: Who kicked it? Wogan admits he did. Newton tells him to punt it again.
“You hear about a ball coming off the bat, and how for some hitters it sounds different,” Newton, now the running backs coach at Porter Ridge high, says. “The ball sounded different coming off Matt’s foot.”
Thus did the two-kick audition end.
“You’re our punter,” Newton tells Wogan.
Wogan wasn’t thrilled. He wanted to tackle and block.
Wogan is now a senior for the 13-1 Porter Ridge Pirates, who Friday night play undefeated New Bern at Kenan Stadium for the N.C. 4A championship. Wogan will punt, kick off and kick field goals.
He also will start at tight end. But kick is what he does best, although he does many things well. He acknowledges almost reluctantly as we talk in the school’s weight room that his grade point average is “4.2, 4.3, somewhere around there.”
Chris Sailer, of Chris Sailer Kicking, ranks Wogan the country’s No. 2 kicker and No. 7 punter. Wogan accepted a scholarship from Oregon, one of the country’s elite programs, where he hopes to kick, kick off and punt.
Ever think that if you hadn’t punted in practice you might not have been discovered?
“That’s very possible, it really is,” Wogan says. “I haven’t ever thought about that. I guess I’ve taken it for granted but at the same time everything happens for a reason.”
One reason the Pirates beat North Davidson 34-27 last week is because of the work of their special teams. Six of Wogan’s seven kickoffs went for touchbacks. He punted twice, each 53 yards, and added two field goals.
The game was played in Welcome and it was like Welcome, Matt.
Late in the second quarter Porter Ridge faced a fourth and 7 from the North Davidson 41. Head coach Blair Hardin could go for a first down, punt or attempt a 58-yard field goal.
“He’s a captain for a reason,” Hardin says.
As tight end Wogan, who is 6-2 and 200 pounds, already was on the field. He saw Hardin look at him. Wogan looked back and simulated a kick.
Wogan didn’t adjust his form or try too hard. His previous long was 56 yards.
On film the 58-yard attempt looks as if it would have carried another 4 or 5 yards after it cleared the goalposts.
“I knew it was going to be good,” says Wogan. “I just felt it.”
He would add a second-half chip shot from 49 yards.
“He’s impressive,” says Jeff Reed, who watched Wogan this season when Porter Ridge played Marvin Ridge.
Like Wogan, Reed is a former soccer star, Reed kicked for East Mecklenburg as a senior and for North Carolina. Reed also kicked from 2002-09 for the Pittsburgh Steelers and has two Super Bowl rings to prove it.
A free agent who hopes to return to the league, Reed he still practices Sundays, game days, at 1 p.m.
“Some high schools have a linebacker kicking extra points,” Reed, 33, says Friday as he drives from his Charlotte home to Pittsburgh. “With the touchbacks and the long field goals, he (Wogan) has to have one of the strongest legs of any high school kicker in the country.”
How long can Wogan kick? His record, set in a competition at a camp outside Atlanta, is 65 yards.
“That probably was one of the best feelings in my life,” Wogan says.
He didn’t celebrate. He didn’t want the other kickers to think he was excited. Sixty-five yards? Hey, he was just getting loose.
Says Hardin: “When coaches talk they usually ask, ‘How’s your quarterback?’ or ‘How’s your running back?’ Other coaches ask me, how’s your kicker?”
In practice Wednesday Wogan kicks field goals, punts, plays tight end and as a defender on the scout team. He struggles with his kickoffs. He struggles not to blast them out of the end zone. If he does, he’ll get yelled at. Return teams need work, too.
Distance appears to be a theme. Wogan was recruited by almost everybody in the state and region that needed his services. But when he flew to Eugene, Ore., for a kicking camp, he was mesmerized before he left the airplane.
The fields reminded him of Clarinda, Iowa, where his father grew up and where they visit every summer. Easy access to the ocean and mountains reminded him of North Carolina. When the Ducks offered, Wogan accepted.
“I just knew,” he says.
Some of us have a gift. The fortunate discover it and work to develop it. Wogan is a weight-room regular, going deep on his squats to enhance flexibility as well as strength.
“I mean, Michael Phelps didn’t get where he’s at because he has huge feet and long arms and long legs,” says Wogan. “You have to work for it. If he did nothing with it he wouldn’t have anything.”
If Jeff Newton didn’t discover Wogan as a seventh-grader, what would Wogan have?
“He'd be kicking," Newton says with a laugh. "As good as he has somebody would noticed. I’ll tell you that. But I’m not going to tell him.”