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Harvard Steadied by Consistent Kicking
Junior punter Jacob Dombrowski, pictured above, has been a consistent performer for the Crimson this season, averaging 42.1 yards per punt on the year. Last weekend, the former soccer star kicked a season-high 58 yarder.
In football, special teams—and especially kickers—are often overlooked. But just four games into the season, strong performances by both junior punter Jake Dombrowski and sophomore place-kicker David Mothander have made the duo hard to ignore.
In last Sunday’s win over Cornell, Mothander and Dombrowski played big roles in Crimson victories yet again. Mothander was accurate on all PATs against Cornell and made both attempted field goals—a 42-yard kick and a 26-yard strike, respectively.
While Dombrowski’s punts did not put any points on the scoreboard, he consistently forced the Big Red offense deep in its own territory. Dombrowski had six punts on the day, for an average of 46 yards, and a long of 58 yards. In addition to length, his punts travel high in the air, giving the defense plenty of time to cover.
But for the junior punter, as with all strong kickers, Dombrowski has navigated a long road to achieve his current success. He first started kicking footballs when he was in seventh grade.
“I went to one of the practices, because all of my friends played football … I talked to the coach and he said, ‘we can use a kicker,’” Dombrowksi said. “That is how it started.”
But unlike the current trend of specialization among young athletes, Dombrowski was a five-sport high school athlete, competing in soccer, football, track, golf, and basketball.
While a star on the gridiron, Dombrowski also made his name known on the soccer field, even receiving offers to play in Division I. Eventually, he chose football, citing the fact that it opened the most doors for him.
Once Dombrowski decided to play college football, the highly sought-after punter faced big decisions. Both the University of Michigan and Stanford recruited him, but ultimately the Michigan native could not pass up the opportunity to suit up for the Crimson.
“Having [a] Harvard education to fall back on … you cannot really pass up [the opportunity],” Dombrowksi said. “And it’s still Division I football.”
Although Dombrowski was recruited to be both a kicker and punter, a nagging back injury from Aug. 2010 forced the junior economics concentrator to focus on punting.
A car accident followed that November. Dombrowski was in a cab returning from a physical therapy appointment when a large van rear-ended him, forcing him to sit out that game against Columbia. The following week, a procedure before the Penn matchup made his game-time status questionable.
But the then-sophomore wanted to get back in the game.
“I had to lay on the center aisle of the bus for eight hours on the way to Penn,” Dombrowski said. “[But] I played.”
As a result of Dombrowski’s inability to place-kick last season, the 6’3 185-pound David Mothander had the rare opportunity: to be an integral part of the team as a freshman. Mothander embraced the chance. He was named National Placekicker of the Week on Nov. 1 and Ivy League co-Rookie of the Week on Sept. 20.
Mothander donned pads for the first time much later than Dombrowski, only beginning kicking his senior year of high school to fill the void on the school’s team. After having a successful postgraduate year playing for Philips Exeter Academy, the kicker was recruited by Harvard.
Once in Cambridge, the inexperienced kicker was immediately thrown into action his freshman year. But Mothander seemed to be unfazed by the pressure.
“I was probably too naïve to feel [the pressure] too much,” Mothander said.
The sophomore has worked hard to improve his kicks, and over the past summer he remained on campus and trained in the mornings with the football team’s “summer dogs.”
“It never hurts to become a better athlete,” Mothander said. “Our strength and conditioning program is awesome, so it definitely helped.”
This season, Mothander’s hard work has manifested on the field. After making nine of his 15 field goals last season, the Mather house resident has yet to miss one this season.
But Mothander still believes there is room for improvement.
“Kick offs have not been where I want them to be or where they should be,” Mothander said. “I could definitely improve my consistency—that is always something to improve.”
Although it’s still early in the season both Dombrowski and Mothander have made large strides in their abilities, which can be attributed to their hard, regimented work.
“I think both kids had terrific offseasons,” Harvard coach Tim Murphy said. “We gave them some specific goals and very specific things we wanted them to do.”
In positions where controlling the mind can be very difficult, both players have displayed good composure and ease under pressure.
“So much of being a good specialist is shoulders up, not from hips down,” Murphy said.
And so far, the kicking duo has elevated itself to elite status—both above and below the hips.
By J. J. Shpall, The Harvard Crimson