MOULTRIE – When Jason Gallardo took his first practice PATs on the Mercedes-Benz turf just over a week ago – and the footballs split the uprights with all kinds of authority behind them – that was the first sign that any concerns about Colquitt County High’s kicking game going forward in the 2019 season were settled.
But if those weren’t enough, the sophomore Gallardo went on to send all of his kickoffs against North Gwinnett High’s return unit into the end zone for touchbacks. He also made two PAT kicks that counted when his Packer teammates scored touchdowns in the first half of the Corky Kell Classic.
A field goal? Colquitt’s former kicker, Ryan Fitzgerald, may have had range to make such kicks in the 70s as fans will remember from his 60-yard free kick that was good in the 2017 playoffs at Archer High. What kind of distance, though, could Gallardo put on a football that’s snapped and held on a tee?
The second half provided that answer when, after a scary sack on Packer quarterback Jaycee Harden, Gallardo attempted a 36-yard field goal, and it was plenty good. That was five out of the 17 Colquitt County points in the win against the Bulldogs.
Calling Gallardo a last-minute, emergency addition to the Packer football team isn’t a far stretch. He was not a part of the program on picture day Aug. 4, so he is neither in the main team picture nor the special teams group picture that appear in The Moultrie Observer’s preseason supplement. The name wasn’t on the original roster also used in the annual edition, but it was as the second Packer wearing No. 17 (the other being receiver Lemeke Brockington) in the roster of the Corky Kell program.
“We picked him up at the trade deadline,” quipped head coach Justin Rogers two days after Gallardo’s performance. “He’s a great addition. A great young man. God’s blessed him with a gift. You can’t have a much better night than he did.”
Special teams coordinator Troy Hobbs explained that this wasn’t just some trial-by-fire experiment they came up with days before going to Atlanta. He said Gallardo, who scored some important goals for Colquitt County High’s soccer team as a freshman, took part in spring football practice. So he already got a feel for the nuances of kicking a football.
“He was with us some in the summer, but he played travel soccer,” said Hobbs. “We left the door open for him whenever he was ready to come back to football. Last week we needed him. He stepped in and did exactly what we had hoped, probably 100 times better than we thought.
“The kid’s first kick is a kickoff in the Mercedes-Benz end zone. All he knew about Mercedes-Benz is that’s where (defending MLS champion) Atlanta United plays because of his soccer background. We tried to use that to calm him down to get ready for the moment. He took it all in stride. If you could see him with his mouthpiece and his helmet, he smiled after every kick. He loved the moment.”
Hobbs added that Gallardo sought Fitzgerald’s advice and got a feel for the expectations of a Packer placekicker. This was the first time Colquitt County had a debuting kicker since the 2016 season when Fitzgerald made two 29-yard field goals in a 34-27 loss to Mill Creek. That was during the last Corky Kell Classic held in the Georgia Dome. Also in the 2016 season, senior Isaac Malagon was good on his first attempt of a field goal for the Packers, 51 yards worth, in a win against Valdosta High at Bazemore-Hyder Stadium.
Gallardo joined them in making the first try ever for three points in varsity football.
“We talked about how far we wanted him to kick out,” said Hobbs. He related how Rogers asked him about the 36-yard attempt, and Hobbs replied, “Give him a shot.”
Here’s another fact about placekicking most may not think about: a different type of football is used than what is snapped to the quarterback. There’s a composite ball and a leather ball.
“We weren’t able to get the right ball in,” he said. “He kicked a leather ball, and he split the uprights. We couldn’t be happier for that young man. He came out to do a job. That field goal made the day for him.”
When Wednesday’s practice indoors ended, Gallardo continued to work setting up a kick on the 40-yard line. It had the distance, but was a little wide left of the yellow stripe on the netting.
“He’s working on his craft,” said Hobbs.
And he’s just in 10th grade.