(Posted October 4, 2004)

HUNTINGDON, Pa. -- Instead of earning extra credit in after-class projects, Juniata College sophomore Erica Vinson, a 19-year-old from Poughkeepsie, N.Y. studying peace, psychology and philosophy, can be found on the college's football field practicing extra points and other place-kicking duties as one of three kickers on Juniata's football squad.

"Everybody has been so positive," says Vinson, who played in two games last season as an onside kick specialist. "We all get along really well so it's really like I have another extended family here at Juniata."

Vinson doesn't expect to see much playing time this season because there is a junior kicker, Dan Heinlein, who handles most of the kicking chores in games as well as a talented freshman kicker, Dave Nicklaus. While she would like the chance to play, Vinson is actually happy to have the chance to be part of the team.

"I'm living my dream right now," she says. "I love football and I'm still having an amazing time with our team."

Vinson did not just decide one day to try out for Juniata's football team. She was the starting place-kicker on her high school football team as a sophomore, junior and senior. When she graduated from high school, she sent game tapes of her kicking to a variety of Division III colleges and received interviews at several colleges.

"(Then-coach Kevin Burke) watched my tape and told me clearly my leg strength wasn't up there yet but that I was very accurate," Vinson explains.

Vinson honed her kicking at an early age, participating in youth soccer starting at age 4. She sort of stumbled into the football kicking. "I was at recess in 8th grade and I punted the ball farther than the other kids and all the boys were pretty impressed," Vinson says. "I told my dad about it and he asked me if I wanted to attend Penn State's kicking camp."

Vinson took part in the Penn State program for four years and decided to try out for her high school team. While that didn't go well at first, she eventually won the team over. "I think five players spoke to me during my freshman year," she says, smiling. "After that I realized I would have to earn their respect, so I worked really hard in the weight room and ended up kicking 14 of 16 extra points during my sophomore year."

That dedication and single-mindedness has served her well at Juniata. She rises at 6 a.m. to make her morning weightlifting sessions and practices every day with the team.
"What I like this year is that everyone is part of one team that has become a more cohesive unit," she says. "We're all striving for the same goal."

Vinson says there are a few drawbacks. Her helmet gives her hair split ends, and on road games there isn't always a locker room close by to accommodate her. At a recent game she had to walk across the Delaware Valley University campus in her uniform to change and shower at the campus gym.

"What this experience has taught me is that if you put your mind to something important, there is nothing you can't achieve," she says.

Contact April Feagley at feaglea@juniata.edu or (814) 641-3131 for more information.