There must be some mistake. I arranged to meet with Bingham High School's phenomenal place kicker, Justin Sorensen, but instead they brought out the fullback. No way this kid is a kicker. I was expecting Martin Gramatica; I got Mike Alstott instead.
This kid is 6-foot-2, 220 pounds. He wears a size 13 1/2 shoe. His legs are twin fire hydrants.
"Yep, I'm the kicker," he assures me, pointing to his T-shirt, which bears a picture of a place kicker.
By now you've heard the stories about the Bingham kicker. The Internet blogs are replete with chatter of his prowess. TV stations have shown up at Bingham practices. Radio talk-show geeks are abuzz about his prodigious kicks. BYU fans are delirious at the prospect of him kicking for their team next season. The Deseret Morning News named Sorensen its Athlete of the Month for August.
All of this fuss over a kicker?
"He's stronger than any kicker in the nation at any level," says Dave Peck, Bingham's head coach.
Don't be too quick to dismiss this as hyperbole. How many NFL kickers can drill a 62-yard field goal off grass with no wind aid?
That's what Sorensen did last Friday night to break a 37-year-old state prep record.
Such kicks are becoming routine for the Bingham senior. In a three-point win over Alta in the season-opener, he kicked field goals of 59 and 51 yards.
He kicked a 62-yard field goal in the team's annual preseason Blue-White intrasquad game. He kicked a wind-aided 75-yard field goal for TV cameras during practice a couple of weeks ago.
The NFL record is 63 yards.
"He makes such a difference in this team," says Peck.
Think about it: All the Miners have to do is reach their opponents' 45-yard line, and they're in scoring territory.
So far this season, Sorensen has made 6-of-8 field-goal attempts. His two misses were 56- and 57-yard attempts into the wind, and one of those was doomed by a bad snap. He has 19 career field goals, three shy of the state record.
Sorensen's kickoffs, meanwhile, have become a sideshow at Bingham games. They are booming shots that routinely land 10 to 20 yards behind the end zone. Last season, 81 of his 96 kickoffs were touchbacks. To give Bingham's kick returners a chance to practice returning kicks, coaches moved Sorensen back to the 25-yard line during the Blue-White game. He split the uprights, which means, in order to clear the crossbar the ball traveled 90-95 yards in the air.
"He's basically kicking 100 yards," says Peck.
Sorensen's only complaint: He wishes the high school kickoff was from the 30-yard line, not the 40, "so I can get ready for college."
Here's the kicker about all this, so to speak: "A lot of people don't realize that Justin is kicking off grass," says Peck.
Unlike collegians and professionals, high school kickers are allowed to kick field goals and PATs off plastic tees, raising the ball well above the level of the grass. It gives kickers the same advantage that a golfer enjoys with a tee. Sorensen has elected to kick field goals and PATs without a tee this season to get ready for next year's collegiate season, even though rules allow it and it provides a distinct advantage (last season, he used a two-inch tee for kickoffs and a one-inch tee for field goals).
"Now he's gotten comfortable without it and prefers to kick that way," says Peck.
Says Sorensen: "If I put it on a tee, I can kick farther, but I'd be worried if I changed things now."
There's rarely, if ever, been a kicker like Sorensen, with his odd combination of size, strength and kicking ability. He bench-presses 330 pounds, squats 500 pounds and power cleans 330 pounds, the latter being close to a national high school record. During last spring's power-lifting season, he set the state record for the power clean.
Sorensen developed his kicking skills as a youth soccer player and began playing football in eighth grade, as a linebacker, fullback and kicker. "My son was on that team, and I remember seeing Justin kick off," says Peck. "Even then you could tell he was a strong kicker."
He also was a hard-hitting position player. Given Sorensen's size, strength and taste for contact, Peck was tempted to play him at another position last season but considered him too valuable as a kicker to risk injury. He considered using him as a fullback again this season but abandoned the idea when Sorensen sustained a shoulder injury while rock climbing.
"The one thing I miss as a kicker is the hitting," says Sorensen, who nonetheless has made several teeth-rattling tackles on the rare occasions when his kicks have been short enough to field.
Sorensen's size and physicality make him a bruising force on defense for the Bingham soccer team in the spring. "I try not to use my size that way," he says, but it's not easy when playing against players who are usually on the small size.
Predictably, Sorensen has attracted much attention from college football recruiters. Coaches from Oregon, Stanford, Colorado, Illinois and Washington were recruiting him before BYU convinced him to commit ("I still talk to Washington," he says).
The other schools never really had a chance. Sorensen grew up in a household immersed in the blue and white of both Bingham and BYU. He is the eighth of nine children, all of them with "J" names Jeff, Jody, Julie, Jared, Jenny, Jake, Jesse, Justin and Josh (mom is Jill but, alas, dad is Kent "so we call him Jose," says Justin).
They all made their mark at Bingham. Among the Sorensen children, there has been a student body president, a football team captain, a homecoming king, a valedictorian, two cheerleaders, several student body officers, and football and soccer players.
They cheered for Bingham on Friday night and BYU on Saturday. They have been BYU season-ticket holders for 25 years, sitting "in the worst seats in the house on the top row left of the Jumbotron," says Sorensen. "We can't see the replays, and we have to bring binoculars to see the field." The Sorensens had to take those seats because there was nowhere else they could find the 50 or so tickets they needed to accommodate cousins, aunts and uncles.
Next year they will have two of their own to cheer for at BYU Justin and his cousin Danny Sorensen, a safety from California provided Justin can arrive there in one piece.
For Peck, it's worrisome enough that Sorensen is an avid unicyclist who rides contraptions that range in height from a few feet to 10 feet, but he also rides down mountainsides and jumps off rocks. He likes to take the unicycle up the Snowbird tram, for instance, and ride to the bottom of the canyon, cutting his own trail and jumping off anything he can find. He has jumped off heights as high as 18 feet.
After watching his kicker jump off a five-foot stage onto the floor during a school assembly just before the state playoffs last fall, Peck scolded Sorensen and ordered him to stay off the unicycle for the rest of the football season.
"I chewed him out," says Peck. "I laid it on him."
Sorensen gave the coach a scare a couple of weeks later when he showed up at his office on crutches with his foot in a boot. Peck shot out of his chair and approached Sorensen. "This better be a prank," Peck said, unsmiling.
"Coach, I was riding my unicycle and tore my Achilles tendon, and ... " At this point, Sorensen, seeing his coach's face, abandoned the prank, threw down the crutches and started running, with Peck in hot pursuit.
"I was like, 'Oh, this is too scary!"' he recalls of Peck's reaction.
"He got me," says Peck. "I can laugh about it now."
Much to his coach's relief, Sorensen showed up this season fit and ready for kicking duties.73 comments on this story
He practiced kicking four days a week throughout the summer, usually alone. His routine consisted of kicking each of the eight footballs he brought to the field, then retrieving them and starting again until he had kicked as many as 120 times in a single session.
"I definitely want to see how good I can be at this," he says.A lot of other people want to do the same thing.
Bingham High senior is regarded as the nation's top high school kicker.
Has already verbally committed to BYU.
In Bingham's two August games, he kicked field goals of 26, 26, 36, 51 and 59 yards. This past week, Sorensen broke the state record with a 62-yard field goal.
Deseret Morning News columnist Doug Robinson is also a part-time assistant football coach at Alta High School.