VANCOUVER — Whether he’s wearing a football helmet or just his plain, old thinking cap, Ben Kolb is a study in focus.
“I do think there are a lot of similarities between challenging classes and the pressure you experience on the football field,” the senior kicker/punter with the Vancouver College Fighting Irish explained Thursday over the phone.
“You can’t go into a kick or into an exam without having studied or practised,” added Kolb who next season joins the UBC Thunderbirds.
Despite the unprecedented nature of a cancelled football season, the proof still lies in the pudding for the 6-foot-2, 185-pound Kolb, 17, whose resume of academic and athletic excellence was celebrated earlier this week when he was named the B.C. Secondary Schools Football Association’s Academic Player of the Year.
On the gridiron, the lack of a 2020 campaign did not obscure the fact that his soccer-honed kicking leg was truly coming into its own.
At Tsawwassen, early in his Grade 11 year, Kolb’s 47-yard field goal, which split the uprights at South Delta Secondary with plenty to spare, went down in the Irish record books as the second-longest in the team’s recorded history.
Although it fell well shy of the 58-yard field goal Sean Fleming booted back in 1989 as a precursor to his 16-year CFL career, it was nonetheless the longest by a V.C. kicker in 30 years.
And of course, you can couple that with the fact that Kolb has re-defined the term ‘straight-A student’ at Vancouver College.
“I really pride myself on my academics,” explains Kolb, who has scored an A or higher in every single class he’s taken since he enrolled at the school in Grade 7. “I approach it like I approach sports. I’ve invested a lot of time in it, and it’s paid off.”
One-hundred percent you might say.
And if you’re wondering about the investment he’s made in his kicking, it too has paid dividends.
Over the summer, when COVID closed the border and ended Kolb’s attempts to attend various kicking camps throughout the U.S., he got lucky when Irish defensive coordinator Ron Turner was able to point him in the direction of a guru master.
“I was afforded the opportunity to train with Don Sweet and we were able to tweak a lot of things,” Kolb said of one of the all-time great CFL kickers, now 72, and who spent 13 of his 14 pro campaigns with the Montreal Alouettes and later the Concordes.
Kolb auditioned for Sweet near his home in Kamloops, and after making the cut, spent parts of the off-season working under the watchful eye of the three-time Grey Cup Most Valuable Canadian award winner.
“I have some natural ability but a lot of issue with my flexibility,” Kolb said. “So he really helped me being more smooth and calm in my approach to the ball. We also spent a lot of time working my mental approach.”
It was a kind of an extra-credit summer master class in the craft, and now, as Kolb refines his training routine even more through thrice-weekly training sessions of his own, he’s also refined a lot of his academic focus as it pertains to his studies beginning this fall at UBC.
He’ll enrol as a Kinesiology major, and is contemplating a career in medicine down the road.
“Ben has made me a better coach,” said Irish senior varsity head coach Todd Bernett. “I found myself trying to match his intellect by communicating clearly and intelligently instead of relying on emotion.”
And when it came time for him to do his stuff during the Vancouver College’s epic 2019 Subway Bowl AAA championship season, Kolb was on point.
“To top it all off, he could go out and make field goals from distance, he could kick-off in multiple styles, and his growth as a punter will be fun to continue to watch,” added Bernett who watched as Kolb went 6-of-7 on field goal attempts over his Grade 11 season, with half of his makes coming from 40-plus yards. He was also 55-of-62 on PAT attempts. “He is team-oriented and humble, so beloved by his teammates that it was almost like he had a celebrity-like status with us last season.”
Maybe it’s because he’s never had to take off his thinking cap to put on his helmet.
In Ben Kolb’s world, a place where the classroom and football field share so many of the same inspiring qualities, you can logically say that they’re one and the same.
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