South Charlotte

Former Providence kicker honors his mentor with award

Chris Hinkebein will graduate with a master's degree in social foundations from the University of Virginia in May, just one year after earning his undergraduate degree in Psychology.

He also has been a key member of the Virginia football team for the last five years, starting as the kickoff specialist for most of the last three seasons.

Hinkebein's future plans include applying to work with federal organizations like the FBI and Secret Service and maybe even an NFL career, if he chooses to go that route and can make a roster.

No matter what he has accomplished, the former Providence High football standout will never forget where he came from.

Hinkebein, 22, will recognize his third- and fourth-grade teacher, Ashley Smith, who taught him at McAlpine Elementary before moving onto Endhaven Elementary and now works with Charlotte-Mecklenburg School's Professional Development office. Hinkebein will do so just before the kickoff of the Virginia-Duke football game Nov. 12.

The award, sponsored by Partners in Education, is called Heroes in Education and is designed to recognize teachers, like Smith, who have made a difference in student athletes' lives. Hinkebein, along with seven Cavalier teammates, will be called out to midfield to present the award to Smith.

"You always hope that you have a lasting effect on all of your students," said Smith, who was an elementary school teacher for more than 20 years. "But to have Chris honor and remember me out of all of the teachers he has had is very special. It brings tears to my eyes just thinking about it."

Hinkebein feels just as good about honoring Smith.

"Mrs. Smith was the first person I remember to really teach me about the value of education," Hinkebein said. "She was my original motivation in learning that doing well in school would take me places."

Hinkebein was one of the top kickers in the nation as a senior at Providence, ranked No. 14 by and No. 16 by

Hinkebein kicked 44 extra points and four field goals in his 2006 senior season, including a 52- and 54-yard field goal, two of the longest in Mecklenburg County history. Hinkebein also recorded touchbacks on 70 percent of his kickoffs.

Hinkebein, a three-time all-Southwestern 4A selection and two-time All-County and All-Observer pick, also had a school-record 256 career points at Providence.

Hinkebein credits Providence football coach Randy Long with giving him the confidence he needed to improve his game, along with his private kicking coach, former North Carolina kicker, Dan Orner.

Long and Orner's influence helped Hinkebein earn a scholarship to Virginia and quickly break into the lineup after redshirting as a freshman.

As a redshirt sophomore, Hinkebein started eight games, booting seven touchbacks on 33 kicks.

Then last year Hinkebein started all 12 games, kicking 17 touchbacks on 58 kicks. Hinkebein also made his first collegiate field goal, a 52-yarder against Maryland just before halftime.

"That's definitely one of the highlights of my football career at Virginia," Hinkebein said, also noting wins over Miami (Fla.) in 2010 and over Georgia Tech.

This year, Hinkebein, who stands 6-foot-1, 195 pounds, has kicked off 40 times for an average of 66 yards, with six touchbacks going into the Maryland game.

While Hinkebein is proud of his accomplishments on the field, he also covets those in the classroom.

"I'm more proud of what I have done academically and that I will have two diplomas from one of the best public universities in the country," Hinkebein said. "Football will eventually be out of my life, but you can never take my degrees away and they will help me forever."

His mother, Teri, agrees.

"We are all really proud of Chris and what he has done at Virginia," Teri said. "This weekend is going to be another special event for both football and his education. Teachers never get enough credit for what they do."

(This story went to print before the Virginia-Maryland football game.)