Gabe Ballard-Hanson sat in Haskell Stadium last fall and contemplated whether he should change uniforms.
At the time, Ballard-Hanson was a member of the Free State High band, watching the Firebirds’ football team on the field when he wasn’t tooting the baritone horn.
What Ballard-Hanson — and everyone else — saw was an inconsistent kicking game.
“My friends kept telling me they thought I could do better,” Ballard-Hanson said in recollection. “They told me I should go ask coach for a tryout.”
So Ballard-Hanson figured, what the heck, adding: “I wasn’t enjoying band that much anyway.”
Still, considering his background, to go to a football coach and ask for a tryout took some moxie.
Ballard-Hanson never had worn a football uniform in his life. He had played junior varsity soccer for the Firebirds the year before, but basically hadn’t enjoyed that, either.
Meanwhile, as poor as the Firebirds’ place-kicking had been, Free State coach Bob Lisher wasn’t turning anyone away.
“He came to me and said he wanted to kick, and I said, ‘Sure,’” Lisher said. “He was pretty accurate. He looked like he’d be pretty good, and he has been.”
Ballard-Hanson has, in fact, been nearly perfect this fall. The 6-foot-1, 155-pound senior has attempted 44 conversion kicks and made 43 of them. His lone miss occurred in the 38-20 loss to Olathe North when he pushed a boot wide right.
“Honestly, I just wasn’t concentrating on that one,” Ballard-Hanson said. “And it sucks that it was against the best team we played.”
Curiously, Ballard-Hanson’s first successful extra-point kick was also against Olathe North. That was in the sixth game of the 2008 season and ended a streak of 10 consecutive failed conversion attempts by the Firebirds.
Last year, Ballard-Hanson converted 22 of 27 XP attempts. He also booted a 22-yard field goal in the Firebirds’ stunning 10-6 win over O-North in the 6A state playoffs.
When it comes to kicking, however, the whole is equal to the sum of its parts, and center Michael Lisher and holder Chandler Schmidt, in particular, also deserve credit for Ballard-Hanson’s success.
“Michael has been pretty consistent,” Lisher said of his son, “and Chandler has done a really good job. He’s had to make saves a few times.”
Ballard-Hanson, too, has been impressed by Schmidt’s uncanny ability to catch the snap and place the ball right where he needs it.
“He’s gone up here and up there,” Ballard-Hanson said, gyrating to his left and right while holding up his arms, “and he hasn’t messed up once. He’s been perfect.”
Free State will meet O-North in the second round of the 6A playoffs at 7 p.m. Friday at the Olathe District Activities Center.