Local football player featured in the Wall Street Journal

MARIETTA – Warren High School junior Cole Wigal’s straight-ahead, square-toe kicking style routinely lands his kickoffs in the end zone during Friday night football games.

On Tuesday, it landed him in the Wall Street Journal.

Wigal was featured in a story by the prestigious newspaper about square-toe kicking, a method that gave way over the years to the soccer-style used today. Wigal’s father, Pat, was a “toe-puncher” and taught his sons to kick the same way.

The Journal story, by Ben Kesling, examines the decline of the kicking style and a couple of companies that still manufacture the square-toed shoes practitioners use – not to mention the physics of why the soccer style, using a diagonal approach and the instep of the foot, is preferred. With a majority of the special shoes being shipped to Ohio, the Journal sought out athletic directors and coaches in Ohio, looking for a kicker who does his job the old-fashioned way and does it well.

Warrior Coach Andy Schob decided to submit Wigal for consideration.

“I thought nothing would really come of it,” the coach said. “And (Kesling) called the next day and said, ‘Hey, I want to do this feature, and I want to use your kicker.'”

The straight-ahead, square-toe style gave way to the soccer-style kicking using a diagonal approach and making contact with the instep of the foot beginning in the 1960s.

California-based Wizard Sports Equipment told the Journal that 98 percent of the square-toe shoes it sells each year are shipped to Ohio.

The article can be viewed at on.wsj.com/1b3f0SI

Wigal said he and his teammates were surprised that the national newspaper wanted to focus on kids in Vincent, Ohio.

“We were pretty much in awe that they actually wanted to get an interview with us,” he said.

Kesling flew to the area from Chicago on Sept. 13. He attended the Warriors’ home game against Athens that night, and did additional interviews and photographs the following day, Wigal said.

“It was kind of fast-paced, but it was a neat process,” Schob said.

When Wigal woke up Tuesday, his stepmother had printed out a copy of the article from the Journal’s website, online.wsj.com. He later learned the story actually ran on the front page of the paper.

“I was kind of shocked,” he said.

His teammates were calling him a celebrity Tuesday, and teachers were offering him congratulations. Students were looking up the article online and watching the accompanying video throughout the day, said junior Tyler Liston, the holder for Wigal.

“I think it’s awesome,” said Liston, who is shown in a picture that accompanies the story online. “We don’t get a lot of attention out here, and it really brought a name to our program.”

Schob said Wigal and his teammates represented the school well. And the extra attention didn’t really change his kicker’s attitude.

“Kickers are a little different breed anyway,” Schob laughed. “He didn’t act any more different than he usually does.”

And even among kickers, Wigal is a different breed.

Schob said the square-toe style is often adopted out of necessity. If a team doesn’t have someone who can kick soccer-style, they often go with a big guy who can do a straight-line approach and toe-punch it over the crossbar on extra points.

“Cole’s kind of a rare exception, ’cause he actually has worked on it since he was younger,” Schob said.

Wigal was open-minded enough to give soccer-style kicking a shot, though.

“I tried it for about a week and couldn’t really pick it up,” he said, adding that he then “went back to normal.”

The square-toe approach isn’t just about power; there’s technique as well, Wigal said.

“I have to really make sure I don’t try to kick the ball too hard,” he said, noting it could cause his foot to swing too much to the left or right.

And if he doesn’t keep his toe pointing up, it can go under the ball and send it straight up in the air, with little drive to move it down the field.

Schob said the last square-toe kicker he regularly saw on a football field was a teammate of his at Marietta High School in 1985. But he has no problem with a toe-puncher if he produces the results Wigal does.

“The main part is, who can get the job done the best,” Schob said.

Wigal said he’s hit a field goal as long as 45 yards in practice and close to 40 in a game. Schob said he’s missed a couple extra points this year, but his main strength is on kickoffs, when Wigal boots the ball into the end zone. While returners can bring a kickoff out of the end zone in college and pro football, in high school, it’s an automatic touchback.

“By putting it in the end zone, we make other teams start at the 20-yard-line,” Schob said, estimating the average starting line of scrimmage for a team that returns a kickoff is the 35.

Schob said Wigal probably puts 75 to 80 percent of his kickoffs in the end zone. He can’t recall an opposing kicker managing that feat this season against the Warriors.