IRONTON — This kicking story has a real kicker to it.
Back in the spring, Ironton St. Joseph High School senior Jimmy Mahlmeister was just doing school work and trying to find a way to pass the time during the COVID-19 shutdown.
It was along that time frame that Ironton senior players Trent Hacker and Cameron Deere approached Mahlmeister about kicking for the Fighting Tigers.
Although he was apprehensive at first, he decided to give it a try and began kicking field goals as long as 45 yards.
Mahlmeister’s maternal grandfather is John Mullins who operates Mullins Construction Company and had worked with former Ironton and Ohio State standout Ken Fritz for years. Fritz is Mullins’ insurance agent and when he told Fritz his grandson was going to try to kick for Ironton this season, Frtiz erupted.
“I’m an Ironton guy. I’m all about Ironton. I can get you someone to help your grandson learn how to kick,” said Fritz.
And get them he did.
Fritz pulled out the first string as he called upon former Ohio State teammate Vlade Janakievski who in turn invoked the help of another Ohio State kicker Drew Basil.
Janakievski began his career as a soccer player for Ohio State and was then recruited to kick of the Buckeyes’ football team where he became the program’s first two-time All-Big Ten performer.
The story began to unfold in March when Ironton Fighting Tigers’ senior players Trent Hacker and Kyle Howell approached Mahlmeister about filling the placekicking void caused by the graduation of All-Ohio kicker Avery Book.
“A couple of guys on the football team were looking for a new kicker and they came and asked me if I would do it. My dad and I talked about it and he asked if I really wanted to do it. I said, ‘Why not? I’ll give it a shot,’ and we went and kicked some and the rest is history,” said Mahlmeister.
Other St. Joseph soccer players Tre Neal, Iszak Unger and Michael Mahlmeister have kicked for Ironton in previous seasons, so Mahlmeister checked with them about their thoughts.
“I talked to them because I was a little skeptical at first. I talked to a few (Ironton players) and asked if I would even fit in and if it would be a good fit for me. They said they’d love to have me. I’ve been going to a couple of practices and it’s been going well,” said Mahlmeister.
The next step was to substitute a football for a soccer ball and start kicking. As the goalkeeper, Mahlmeister doesn’t do a lot of kicking in a game.
“Kicking a football and a soccer ball are two totally different things. But, being a goalkeeper, I can kind of relate it to kicking a goal kick. You want to get under the ball and you want to do the same thing with a football. You want to get under the ball and get it up in the air,” said Mahlmeister.
The first time he attempted to kick a football, Mahlmeister admits it was okay but he was far from being able to do the job at the necessary level.
“Having a soccer background helps a lot. The first time wasn’t too bad but it wasn’t anything great. Over the past four or five months, it’s gotten tremendously better,” said Mahlmeister.
The next step came on Wednesday when Mahlmeister got his teaching lesson in the Columbus area at Gahanna East Middle School with the two former Ohio State kickers.
“Whenever we got there, the first thing Vlade said was I need a smaller shoe. Every now and then I’d chunk one and get it way up in the air. The main thing was I pulled the ball to the left almost every time I missed. They told me to make sure I’m watching me make contact with the ball and treat it just like a golfer or baseball swing,” said Mahlmeister.
Basil arrived a few minutes late but quickly jumped in with some tips and instructions.
“Drew told me that whenever I’m kicking from a hash, I should pick an object through the uprights and focus on that spot,” said Mahlmeister. “He told me I can never look up at the ball. If I look up, I’m going to pull the ball. He said always keep your head down and look at one spot on the ball and watch yourself make contact with it.”
As the workout progressed, so did Mahlmeister. Both Janakievski and Basil told his father Jimmy Mahlmeister and fraternal grandfather Jim Mahlmeister that Jimmy “was a natural.”
Janakievski was born in Yugoslavia and moved to the United States with his parents in 1967 at the age of 10. He played at Whitehall-Yearling High School in Columbus and then was a walk-on at Ohio State, where he played from 1977-1980.
Basil played soccer and kicked for the football team at Chillicothe High School. He played for Ohio State from 2010-13 and ranks eighth all-time in field goals made with 33 and had a field goal percentage of 78.6.
Besides the workout was at Gahanna East Middle School, all of Mahlmeister’s workouts have been on the practice field at Tanks Memorial Stadium. He knows that when the Friday night scoreboard is turned on and the stands are filled with people, the atmosphere will change.
“I’m sure the first time I go out and kick, especially being against Wheelersburg which is my hometown, it’ll be a little nerve-racking, but once I get into the hang of things I’ll be good,” he said.
Mahlmeister already has an offer on the table to play soccer at Maryville College in Tennessee. If he has great success in both sports and gets offers to play either football or soccer, Mahlmeister said it would be a tough decision.