Lynden junior Marko Samoukovic says he can’t kick – to use slang popular among humble athletes who don‘t want to complain – about not yet attracting attention from college recruiters.
But, when talking top-notch football prospects, Samoukovic certainly can kick. So far, though, he’s one of Washington state’s secret weapons.
Samoukovic, a good all-around athlete, is so focused on place kicking – to help his unbeaten “football brothers” and to develop his skills for college – that he has been willing to give up any chance to play elsewhere on the field.
“I just want to win so bad for my teammates,” said Samoukovic, who is 35 for 35 on conversions and 7 for 8 on field goals – the one miss coming on a blocked field goal he tried from 56 on the final play of the first half three weeks ago.
“We’re more like a family, we’re so close,” he said of the Northwest Conference Sky Division champion Lions (9-0), who face Eatonville at 4 p.m. Saturday in a Class 2A state tournament opener at Civic Field. Lynden’s game is sandwiched in between 1A openers for Lynden Christian 1 p.m. and Meridian at 7 p.m. in a Whatcom County triple-header.
So, attention college special teams coaches: You may want to talk with the affable Samoukovic, and he definitely wants to talk with you.
“I absolutely want to kick in college,” said Samoukovic, whose 3.5 grade-point average will help him find a college home. “If not at the Division I level, then D-II or D-III.”
Samoukovic, who plans to return to soccer this spring, is popular with more than his teammates. He was voted junior class prince of the homecoming court but stayed in the locker room at halftime.
“Marko has the perfect demeanor for college kicking,” Lynden football coach Blake VanDalen said. “He takes life as it comes. Pressure doesn’t faze him. He’s an easy-going kid and he’s pretty entertaining.”
By that, VanDalen was talking about his kicker’s trademark “airplane celebration,” in which he pretends to be flying off the field after he makes a kick, followed by an emphatic chest bump with Eric Bode.
Samoukovic’s most entertaining moment, as his teammates will attest, was when he “sort of made a tackle on a kickoff against Lakewood.”
“The guys went crazy,” he said with one of his frequent smiles. “That was my first tackle.”
“I played wide receiver on the C team as a freshman and kicked off a couple of times on the varsity,” he said.
Samoukovic says a large part of his success is long snapper Grant VanderYacht – best known as Lynden’s big-play threat as a receiver – and holder Elijah VanderHaak.
At one point this season, VanderYacht’s long score caused VanDalen to call a rare timeout between the touchdown and the extra point attempt.
“Grant was out of breath,” Samoukovic said, “and Coach VanDalen wanted him to have time to recover.”
Samoukovic claimed the varsity kicker’s job in the second half of his second game as a sophomore.
He was sent in to try a 24-yard field goal – his first – with two minutes remaining and the scored tied at 13-all against Ferndale. He made the kick with plenty to spare, although the Golden Eagles rallied to win 19-16.
A typical soccer-style kicker, he says he is comfortable inside 40 yards (inside the 30-yard line, since the goalpost is 10 yards behind the front line of the end zone).
“I did kick a 60-yarder in warmups before a game this season,” he said, noting a moment of encouragement.
His longest in a game is 38 yards, though he doesn’t get to kick field goals as often as some high school players because of Lynden’s potent offense.
“We haven’t punted in the last two games,” VanDalen said.
The 16-year-old kicker, who does his share of running and weight lifting with his teammates, works on kicking six days each week.
“I do get some butterflies before game time, but they go away after I kick off or my first kick,” he said.
This week’s games
CLASS 3A STATE PLAYOFFS
▪ Squalicum at Mountain View, 6 p.m. Saturday (at McKenzie Stadium)
CLASS 2A STATE PLAYOFFS
▪ Sehome at Liberty, 7 p.m. Friday
▪ Eatonville at Lynden, 4 p.m. Saturday (at Civic Stadium)
CLASS 1A STATE PLAYOFFS
▪ Cascade Christian at Lynden Christian, 1 p.m. Saturday (at Civic Stadium)
▪ Mount Baker at Montesano, 6 p.m. Saturday
▪ Elma at Meridian, 7 p.m. Saturday (at Civic Stadium)
CLASS 1B DISTRICT PLAYOFFS
▪ Crescent at Lummi, 1 p.m. Saturday