Reiners takes Pios' kicking game to another level
CROWLEY – High school kickers don’t usually come up in the conversation about most valuable players. Don’t tell that to the Notre Dame Pioneers, especially coach Lewis Cook.
“Dustin Reiners is an offensive threat for our football team. When you have a weapon like that in the kicking game, it just enhances your whole team. He puts a high percentage of his kickoffs into the end zone where there is no threat of a return. His punts are such that we are able to get down field and cover and that’s a big advantage. It’s not always about just booming it down the field.”
Never was that more evident than in the defensive struggle with Breaux Bridge earlier this season where field position was so important. Not to mention his 20-yard field goal for the only points of the game, Reiners punted five times for an average of 44 yards with two downed inside the 20 at the Tigers 12 and 13 yard line.
His two kickoffs were into the end zone for no return and Breaux Bridge had an average starting field position of the 24 yard line.
“Coach Cook has had several talks with me about the importance of the kicking game and while I’ve always understood that, if I ever needed any type of reassurance, that game gave it to me,” Reiners noted with a big smile. “Last year, I really wanted to get in more on offense. This year, I do realize a little more what my contribution means to the team.”
That doesn’t mean Reiners is quite ready to scrap his practice sessions in the offensive line. As the backup center, Cook admits to extreme caution when it comes to his kicking weapon.
“We try to balance his practices and I do play it careful with that,” noted Cook. “I won’t let him play in junior varsity games because it would be taking a chance to not have him for Friday night.”
As a freshman, Reiners was thrust into action after a season-ending injury to then kicker and linebacker Conner Goss. Reiners finished the year with a 34.7-yard average on 14 punts. Last season, he was the only Pio player to put a foot on the ball and that will likely be the story the rest of this season and next. That means a lot of hard work both in practice and after teammates have left the field.
“We have certain times during the week where we go over our special teams assignments,” added Reiners. “The return and cover teams all have other positions on the team and I work with the line during offensive drills. So, a lot of my kicking work comes after practice.”
As a sophomore, it paid off for a 42.1 average on 43 punts with 14 of those downed inside the 20, six others for touchbacks and a long kick of 64 yards. He converted 45 extra points and made 3 of 6 field goals. Against East Ascension in the semifinals, a 20-yard field goal ended up being the difference in sending the Pios to the state championship in a 16-14 win. Cook says the team works on some phase of the kicking game every day in practice.
“We work field goals and extra points twice a week, punting three times a week, and some days we do everything. On Tuesday, we stay out after practice for extra snaps with punts and returns. They do have time during practice to work on their own, but Dustin still works at it after everyone else is gone.”
Through five games this year, Reiners is averaging a misleading 36 yards a punt. The efficient Pio offense has only called on the junior kicker for 10 punts and he has downed three of those inside the 20 with three others for touchbacks. He has kicked off 27 times and 22 have gone into the end zone for a touchback without a return.
Reiners has only been called on for two field goal attempts and has made both. That’s the result of being on a successful team that punches it into the end zone regularly. But it hasn’t lessened any of the confidence his coaches have in calling on him when needed.
“It’s the game situation that really determines whether we go for a field goal, but in my mind, the 25-yard line is probably the target for us to kick it,” explained Coach Cook. “We work in practice from the 20, kicking from the left hash, the right hash and straight on. That’s a 37-yard field goal and I want it to be automatic in Dustin’s mind from that distance. He has kicked them from 50-plus yards in practice, so if we were in a tie game or down three or less at the end of the game, I would be confident to send Dustin out there for a 50-yarder to give us a chance to win or keep playing in overtime.”
There may come a day in the near future when Dustin Reiners has to make a decision on his future. Former Pio kicker and linebacker Hunter Stover is now a kickoff specialist for the UL Ragin Cajuns. Reiners certainly has the numbers to attract interest from college coaches and it may require a similar end to split duties.
“I have thought a little about that and I am concentrating a little more on kicking now than in the past,” Reiners admits. “Working out every day and training for both positions has made me stronger and that has made me a better kicker. I realize I may have an opportunity to play at the next level if I continue working to get better. Playing in the offensive line gives me something else to go to while I’m in high school and I would like to keep that option here as long as I can.”
Notre Dame continues to win the battle up front on both sides of the ball. Defensively, the front four logged 17 tackles against Catholic. The offensive front sparked a 385-yard rushing night that had John Michael Besse and Brad Stoma running wild all night.
“Some of those runs were reads and some were designed for me to keep it,” explained Stoma. “When we ran play-action across the corner they would usually bite on the handoff because we kept running it up the middle, up the middle. When it came time that we needed it, on those fourth down plays, that seemed the way to get it and our offensive line again did a real good job of blocking it.”
GAME BALL AWARDS
Big Play of the Game – It was actually the second-quarter defensive series after Catholic had scored and cut the Pios’ lead to 20-7. An interception on the next play set the Panthers up at the Pios’ 22 yard line. The defense took over with a Kade Smith sack on first down, no gain on a second down run with Nate Link and Hunter Stelly teaming for the stop and a one-yard gain on third down when Stelly tackled Fusilier after a pass. On fourth down, Link got a sack and forced a fumble that Stelly recovered.
Brad Stoma – Junior QB had his number called on six timely carries for 116 rushing yards and two TDs. Stoma also completed 10 of 14 passes for 112 yards and a TD. He just gets better and better!
John Michael Besse – Ran for 162 yards with scoring runs of 33 and 10 yards and caught three passes for 30 yards. J-Mike is averaging 7 yards a carry and 123 yards a game.
Nate Link – Another dominating performance by the junior defensive end with six solo and seven total tackles, two for losses totaling 10 yards, two forced fumbles, a pass break up, two sacks and two QB hurries.
Hunter Stelly – It’s big play after big play for the senior linebacker who had 12 solo stops and 13 total tackles, one for a loss, a sack and a fumble recovery.
For the second time this season, Notre Dame will be playing a team for the first time ever when they travel to West St. Mary to open district play. The Wolfpack moved up from Class 2A last season and suffered through a winless campaign against 3A competition. Needless to say, the step up has been a struggle and WSN has only won nine times the past three seasons.
This season has been a little more up and down with WSM going 3-2 in the pre-district schedule. The Wolfpack opened with a win over Opelousas (17-7), lost at Loreauville (0-28), won at Morgan City (21-14), lost at home to Northwest (14-0) and last week went on the road to Ferriday and won 21-14.