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Study Says Onside Kicks Well Worth the Risk

How much risk are you taking by using an onside kick rather than kicking the ball deep? A study by Craig Maddolini of St. Joseph’s Catholic High School in Greenville, Mississippi says that the risk is minimal. Maddolini did a research paper for a masters degree and looked back at both normal kickoffs and onside kicks at his school going back sevens seasons, from 2010-2016. His findings dispute common football strategy.  Most high school coaches use the onside kick as a surprise once or twice a season or in a desperation situation when behind at the end of the game.  In an article on, Maddolini says that the advantage lies with the kicking team.  The game has changed and he says that coaches need to change their traditional view of field position.

Coach Maddolini listed five factors in his article that pointed to using the intentional onside kick. First was field position.  He states that his team’s opponents averaged returning kicks to the 37 yard line.  Kickers inability to kick the ball high and deep, along with poor tackling due to decreased contact in practice has led to more big kickoff returns.  When his team executed a failed onside kick, the receiving team averaged getting the ball on the 45 yard line. He deducted that the 8 yard risk was worth the possible reward. Second, his team had difficulty covering kickoffs and had given up touchdowns and deep returns in their own territory.  There had been no such returns on the onside kicks.  The third factor was the turnover issue.  They had not created one turnover on deep kicks but had recovered 57.9% of the onside kicks.

Coach Maddolini said a fourth factor was momentum.  A recovered kick creates a huge momentum swing and St. Joseph’s had scored on 86.1% of possessions after the recovery.  Finally, he listed weather conditions as a factor.  A wet ball certainly makes recovery more likely and a strong wind in your face makes a deep kick questionable.

Another issue to consider not listed in the report might be confidence.  When you onside kick that much, your kicker will get more and more skilled.  Your may not have anyone who would be able to kick the ball deep, but you might develop a quality onside kicker from a good athlete.   Your kickoff team will learn to time their start better and be more polished on the different kicks you will use.  It will not be as important to have tacklers on the kickoff team. Coaches may prefer to use more quickness and receiver type guys. There is also a pressure issue for the returning team. They will work all week on receiving onside kicks (they will have to assign more practice time to this) and they will undoubtedly feel the pressure of fumbling the kick. This can actually lead to more recoveries.  The possibility of increased possessions due to turnovers would also aid a team trying for the upset.  No better way to stop a great offense than to keep them on the bench. The special teams coach would certainly want to game plan by having different kicks to different sides and plan toward which defender you would like to kick the ball.

If you don’t have a kicker that can get it to the end zone or you are limited in your number of quality players to cover that kick, this strategy would be more than sound for your team.  Teams could even mix up their deep kicks and onside kicks.  The onside kick would certainly cause the receiving team to have more difficulty setting up any kind of return.

Coaches might want to go back and do a study with their own kickoffs and use their own data if they are considering going to this philosophy.  They may also want to go back and read all the rules on kickoffs and onside kicks and make sure that all of their onside efforts are by the rules.

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