By Dave Ruden
NEW CANAAN — Peter Swindell is still amazed and amused by the attention he has received over the past two weeks, his trick kick, spinning the ball with his feet and kicking a 31-yard field goal, generating over 600,000 YouTube views and putting him on a Yahoo home page.
“It’s pretty cool,” said Swindell, the sophomore kicker for New Canaan High School. “I didn’t expect it to be that big. It just shows how quick things with social media can go. It’s pretty awesome.”
While Swindell is something of a local football overnight sensation, he is hardly a one-trick kicker. While most schools scramble to find players with both the accuracy and strength to fill a void at the position, often searching for cut soccer players, Swindell actually gave up the sport in 6th grade to concentrate on football.
“That was the first year in football when they had kickers and they asked if there were any soccer players who kicked,” Swindell recalled. “It worked and I stuck with it.”
Swindell has turned into a vital weapon this year for the Rams, who are 10-0, ranked No. 1 in the state and facing St. Joseph Friday night in the FCIAC championship game.
Swindell has a school-record 85 points this season. Granted, 61 have come on conversions for one of the state’s highest-scoring teams. But he is also 8 for 10 on field goal attempts, with a long of 45 yards.
“It’s nice to have a weapon like that,” said Chris Silvestri, who is the Rams’ secondary and kick coverage coach.
Swindell’s success is equal parts cerebral and physical.
“It’s definitely a mental game,” Swindell said. “It is a lot of practice and reps. When I’m kicking in practice, coach (Lou) Marinelli will try to distract me or the players will try to distract me. You just have to stay focused on the ball.”
Swindell said he feels comfortable on field goals up to 45 yards, estimating he can convert at about an 80 percent rate from that distance. Swindell said his longest kick — “with the wind’ — came in practice from 55 yards.
“You have to have a strong brain,” he said. “It’s all about being confident and consistency. Everything has to be perfect. One little thing can go wrong and it just won’t work.”
Swindell is also about nuance as much as power. Silvestri said the Rams have a number of options on kickoffs because of Swindell’s precision.
“We can squib it, we can kick it deep, to the left, middle or right,” Silvestri said. “He has the ability to place things. There are definite strategies we are able to do. He knows the importance of where the ball is placed based on where our coverage is. He can do onside kicks. We haven’t needed them this year and we’re thankful for that, but he is able to do it. He studies it. He’s a student of the game. He really wants to get better every day.”
For now, Swindell has stood out because of his renowned kick that took place at the end of practice two weeks ago. He saw a video of the kick online.
“I watched it two or three times,” Swindell said. “The first couple of times it didn’t work. I just couldn’t get it at all, but after one or two days of practice I got it down.”
Swindell said it probably took about 100 tries before he mastered it. “Spinning the ball was the hardest part,” he said. “Kicking it was easy.”
When Swindell was called on two weeks ago with the opportunity to end practice early by making a field goal, only a handful of people were aware what was coming.
“I knew he could do some trick stuff, but I had no idea he could do that,” Silvestri said. “I thought it was great. I was trying it the next day. It’s amazing what he did.”
Swindell is also not just a one-position player. He is a wide receiver on the New Canaan junior varsity team.
Asked if Swindell could end up getting a lot of playing time as a receiver in the future, Silvestri said, “I would say that’s a strong possibility. Maybe safety. We actually talk to this one.”
The Rams’ dominance this season has been a double-edged sword for Swindell, who would love the opportunity to attempt a field goal in a pressure situation. With most of their games decided by halftime and the average margin of victory 34.5 points, that hasn’t occurred.
“I hope a game wouldn’t get that close,” Swindell said, “but if it does I’d be pretty excited to get in there.”