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10-year-old puts best foot forward

Video: State College 10 year old competes in Punt, Pass, Kick

Ten year old Owen Yerka will compete this weekend at the Pittsburgh Steelers practice facility in the Punt, Pass, Kick challenge.
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Ten year old Owen Yerka will compete this weekend at the Pittsburgh Steelers practice facility in the Punt, Pass, Kick challenge.

If sportsmanship were a part of the NFL Punt, Pass, Kick program, Owen Yerka might be a shoe-in to win.

It’s not part of the rules, so the 10-year-old has to rely on his performance Sunday in the Steelers training facility.

That doesn’t worry him. Neither does fact that he shanked his first practice kick in his front yard Thursday.

A righty, Owen set up about 10 feet from the ball, got a running start and gave it his best. The pigskin, shooting like it was launched out a cannon, zoomed far right and ricocheted off of the family’s trampoline.

His reaction, the same as his parents, was telling. They laughed it off and set up for the next kick, which traveled about 80 feet in a straight line. It was one of his best kicks to date.

“If he doesn’t have a good one, it doesn’t bother him,” his father, Gero Yerka, said. “He gets back up and does it again.”

The rules of Punt, Pass, Kick are simple — do all three just once, and the winner is whoever accumulates the most distance. Feet are taken off, however, for how far off center the ball lands in each phase.

A good throw, Owen said, will go about 80 feet, a kick 75 feet and a punt 70 feet.

Owen has advanced in several stages to get to black and gold country.

“I think the hardest one is the punting, and, like, I’ve got the distance, but it’s hard to get it straight,” Owen said.

A misplaced kick or punt would almost certainly doom Owen’s chances of moving onto the next level. That possible outcome didn’t phase him, a trait that in part comes from the attitude of those around him.

“It was something he wanted to do for fun,” his mother, Kirstie Yerka, said. “That’s what it’s about. I don’t think he really thinks of it as a competition. He just enjoys being active, so this is something else for him to do. I always tell him to just have fun, and I think he does that.”

He does practice a little bit, two to three times a week with good weather.

His family spray-painted a line for about 100 feet in their yard to help him, marking off every 10 feet to judge distance. A good throw, Owen said, will go about 80 feet, a kick 75 feet and a punt 70 feet.

Owen set a few new benchmarks for himself this week, however, heaving the ball about 90 feet and also kicking it about 80.

“We try to do it every day, but he also plays an instrument and plays basketball and baseball,” Kirstie Yerka said. “He’s always got a lot going on.”

The family has also gotten in on the action to see how they stack up against Owen.

“I think we’ve all done that, his dad, myself, his stepdad, his grandpa,” Kirstie Yerka said. “He’s definitely a better athlete than me.”

Owen’s favorite part of the competition is the same thing he enjoys most on the Assembly of God football team — calling out the cadence, getting the snap and running the play.

If I had to choose a quarterback I’d be like, I’d have to choose Russell Wilson.

Owen Yerka

He also gets playing time at tight end and running back, but he’s most comfortable under center.

“It’s like I’m in control of everything,” he said.

His idols, unsurprisingly, are also quarterbacks.

Peyton Manning, the all-time NFL leader in just about everything a quarterback can do, is the first name out of his mouth. Second, though he thought about it for a few seconds, is Philadelphia’s Sam Bradford.

“Well, I’m an Eagles fan,” Owen said.

He admitted neither quarterback really fit his style.

Owen, like his family described him, is always on the move. He wants to be a mobile quarterback that is dangerous when the ball leaves his hand and when he tucks it and bolts for the end zone.

“If I had to choose a quarterback I’d be like, I’d pick Russell Wilson,” he said. “He’s pretty good.”

Reminded that Seattle QB Wilson threw the interception that lost his team the Super Bowl, Owen shrugged it off.

“I don’t know,” Owen said. “He probably wouldn’t do it again.”

Owen also predicted he would do well Sunday. He won’t, however, get down on himself if he isn’t one of four finalists who gets to the national championships in January.

The journey to Heinz Field, even if a few kicks have clanked off that old trampoline, has been worth it.

“I’m just really glad I’m here,” Owen said. “If I move on, that’s great. If I don’t, that’s fine.”

Shawn Annarelli: 814-235-3928, @Shawn_Annarelli

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