Jeff Ondish kicks his way to All-State

Bill Russell saw potential in Jeff Ondish, and not because of his size -- it was his foot.

Ondish, now a 6-foot-2, 180-pound soon-to-be senior at Elkton (Md.) High School, showed up as a freshman hoping to play receiver and defensive end.

"I told him, 'Rumor is you were the best [kicker] in junior league,'" said Russell, Ondish's coach the past three seasons until stepping down at the end of the 2008 campaign. "I said, 'You can play other positions, but we really need you to kick and punt.'"

The coaxing worked.

Ondish, like his older brother who went to Towson University, took up kicking, and it earned him Small School All-State honors in Maryland after averaging 38.1 yards per punt. Ondish was the top vote getter among underclass punters on the All-State ballot.

"He's tall with long legs and arms," Russell said. "He lays the ball out nicely and gets good spiral and hang time. His punting kept [opposing] offenses deep. Our defense was good and could hold teams, so we got the ball back in good field position."

Russell said Ondish had little chance of making the varsity as a freshman until he started kicking. The Golden Elk had All-State place-kicker Chris Hill on the roster, and Ondish earned the starting punting spot early in the season.

Ondish recently attended a kicking camp at Rutgers, where he converted an uncontested 55-yard field goal, which demonstrates his leg strength. Russell said Ondish emerged from the camp with the longest field goal, but punting remains the player's specialty.

Russell said Illinois and Purdue have sent letters requesting more information on Ondish, and since his performance at the Rutgers camp, more schools are starting to inquire.

As for the position play, Ondish has worked his way into the starting lineup as a receiver and outside linebacker.

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Sheldon Shealer is a senior editor and covers high school sports for ESPNRISE.com.