Each day over the 2 1/2 weeks leading up to the 2019 IHSA football season, the News-Gazette will be previewing all 37 teams in its coverage area.
CHAMPAIGN — Dalton Hall, Santiago Rodriguez and Pryce Punkay don’t have to play football at Champaign Central.
Hall is the reigning Class 2A third-place wrestler at 160 pounds.
Rodriguez is the defending News-Gazette All-Area boys’ soccer Player of the Year and has verbally committed to play the sport in college at DePaul.
Punkay competes in soccer and basketball, recently working out at the Champaign-based NCAA College Basketball Academy last month on the University of Illinois campus.
Yet all three seniors — as long as the latter two don’t have a soccer match — will be on the sideline as kickers whenever coach Tim Turner’s football Maroons have a game.
The first opportunity in 2019 comes at 7 p.m. Friday at Metamora, though Central soccer is slated to attend a tournament in Bradley the same night.
“They’re not slouches coming out here,” said Turner, back for his second season in charge of the Maroons after guiding them to a 6-4 record and a Class 5A first-round playoff appearance last season. “I don’t have three kids out here that couldn’t play their other sports.”
Rodriguez and Punkay are natural choices to kick the football for the Maroons, given their soccer ties. Punkay wound up converting 24 point-after-touchdown kicks last year.
Hall is the anomaly, considering he hasn’t played soccer since sixth grade.
“We needed a kicker last year because our soccer players couldn’t always be there,” said Hall, who sent a ball through the uprights on nine PATs as a junior. “I just thought I’d give it a try, and it turns out I wasn’t too bad at it.”
Hall also is a running back and outside linebacker for Turner, but he’s really enjoyed getting the extra work on special teams.
“Honestly, being the kicker is one of my favorite positions,” Hall said. “It’s just a lot of fun. Especially after we score a touchdown, there’s a lot of celebration. And just capping off with that extra point, it’s nice to have.”
Turner wasn’t afraid to unleash the onside kick in his inaugural campaign at Central’s helm. That said, Turner believes he has multiple options — not just in who’s kicking — for moving the ball by foot.
“Santi and Pryce, those guys can put the ball in the end zone,” Turner said. “You don’t know if we’re going to onside kick the ball or if we’re going to kick it in the end zone. That’s a huge weapon I love to use.”
Hall adds another element still with his ability to create something between a chip shot and a boomer.
“I would do a pop-up to the middle, and it was when we didn’t want to kick it deep but we didn’t want to onside kick it,” Hall said. “It took about a week to perfect — I don’t want to say perfect, but learn it.”
Turner doesn’t give the trio too much direction beyond play calls. He admits to not being “a kicking teacher.”
Even so, he definitely cares about who is handling those duties.
“This kind of started with Ryan Chalifoux,” said Turner, referencing the former Central star who now kicks for the Louisville football program. “We’ve told every kicker who’s happened to be a soccer player that your job is to recruit your replacement. If you can recruit your replacement, you’re doing a great service to the program.”
That the mindset of Hall, Rodriguez and Punkay falls in line with something Turner and his assistants consistently preach is simply a bonus.
“We really harp on three-sport, two-sport athletes,” Turner said. “If you’re an athlete, if you’re good enough, you’re good enough, and you can be good in any sport. I think it shows that, especially for some of our younger guys.”
When you can see the Maroons in action
A look at Champaign Central’s 2019 football schedule:
DATE OPPONENT TIME
Aug. 30 at Metamora 7 p.m.
Sept. 6 vs. Centennial 7 p.m.
Sept. 13 vs. Peoria Notre Dame 7 p.m.
Sept. 20 at Urbana 7 p.m.
Sept. 27 vs. Peoria Richwoods 7 p.m.
Oct. 4 at Danville 7 p.m.
Oct. 11 at Peoria 7 p.m.
Oct. 18 vs. Normal West 7 p.m.
Oct. 25 at Peoria Manual 7 p.m.