Clovis sophomore Robert North has traded kicking a rugby ball for kicking a football. North moved from England two months ago when his dad took a job at Southwest Cheese. (CNJ staff photo: Eric Kluth)
By Rick White: CNJ managing editor
His coach calls him “Ol’ Chap.” His teammates prefer “Rugby.”
Both are nicknames that refer to Robert North’s molasses-thick English accent.
Short on American football knowledge and long on leg strength, the wispy-thin sophomore has taken over as placekicker and punter for the Clovis Wildcats.
His 48-yard field goal Saturday helped the Wildcats end La Cueva’s 28-game winning streak.
‘I think that’s really what got us going,” Clovis senior quarterback and free safety Devin Sweet said.
The left-footed North moved to Clovis two months ago from a sheep farm in Devon, England, when his father took a job at Southwest Cheese. He has a unique kicking style, born from his days playing rugby: He lines up almost parallel to the placement of the ball.
“He comes from the side and sweeps it,” said Sweet, North’s holder. “He comes at such a sharp angle, I always think he’s messing with me.”
Before coming to Clovis, North’s football experience was limited to an occasional NFL game on television.
“It’s a bit like rugby,” he said regarding going out for the team. “Plus, I wanted to do something on the physical side.”
Kicking the ball is an essential part of rugby. Points are awarded for kicks similar to football’s extra points and field goals — although in rugby the kicker has a minute to place and kick it, North said.
North said a rugby ball, which is larger and more spherical, is easier to kick than a football, although the football goes farther.
He punted two times last week for a 38.5-yard average.
“Every time I play, I learn a different rule,” said North, who hasn’t yet broken the habit of calling a football field a pitch.
“He’s definitely English,” said Clovis special teams coach Darren Kelley, shaking his head and chuckling. “The kids love him.”
Sweet said the team treats North like any other player — “but he says some funny stuff.”
North will handle kickoff, field-goal and punting duties again tonight when the second-ranked Wildcats (3-1) travel to Rio Rancho (3-1).
Kelley said the Wildcats can’t afford a letdown.
“We’ve got to come out focused,” Kelley said. “We don’t want last week to be the highlight of our season.”
The Rams (3-1) are coached by former Clovis Wildcat Phil Lopez, who is in his third season at the state’s biggest school.
Rio Rancho’s only loss this season was to pass-happy Artesia, 49-35 two weeks ago.
Lopez laughed when asked how much practice time his team spent this week on pass defense — Clovis has thrown the ball 24 times all season.
“Their offensive line is huge,” Lopez said. “They’re definitely going to cause us some problems up front.
“But we have to tackle better. We haven’t tackled well the last couple weeks.”
The Rams are led by Mike Love, a 5-foot-11, 200-pound senior running back who rushed for 375 yards and four touchdowns last week against Santa Fe. Rio Rancho utilizes the Division I prospect mostly on sweeps and traps.
“He’s not somebody we’re going to arm-tackle,” Kelley said. ‘We’re going to have to bring it if we’re going tackle him.”
Rio Rancho will be without the services of senior quarterback Baer Philipbar, who broke his collarbone against Artesia. Lopez said he will rotate senior Tory Rudolph and junior Chris Charley at quarterback again this week.
“It’s a huge blow for us,” Lopez said. “When we lost him against Artesia, we didn’t have another weapon to go with Love.”
Clovis at Rio Rancho
7 p.m. today
Records: Clovis 3-1, Rio Rancho 3-1.
Coaches: Clovis, Eric Roanhaus 28th season. Rio Rancho, Phil Lopez, 3rd.
Last week: Clovis beat Las Cueva 10-7. Rio Rancho beat Santa Fe 41-13.
Last year: Clovis beat Rio Rancho 28-21 on Phillip Williams’ 79-yard run with less a minute left. Williams finished with a career-best 275 yards. Rio Rancho’s more heralded Chris Williams finished with 189 yards and two scores.
Rio Rancho players to watch: Mike Love, 5-11, 200, Sr., RB/LB Kyle Rodriguez, 6-4, 280, Jr, G; Marcus Williams, 5-9, 135, So., RB.
Keys to the game: Clovis can’t afford a letdown after ending La Cueva’s 28-game winning streak last week. Rio Rancho must neutralize Clovis’ massive offensive line.
By the numbers: Rio Rancho has allowed three kickoff returns for touchdowns in the last two weeks.
Oh, brother: Sophomore Marcus Williams is the younger brother of Chris Williams. Phil Lopez said the younger Williams is farther along at this stage of his career than was his older brother.
Quotable: “It’s a huge game for them. They have a chance to move among the top three or four teams in the state.” — Clovis assistant coach Darren Kelley