Mike Gomez currently stands No. 1 in the Class of 2020 at Phillipsburg.
The junior placekicker and punter knows how he could stand No. 1 in Stateliner football fans’ hearts on Nov. 22, too.
“The ultimate would be to hit that (game-winning) field goal at Fisher Stadium (against Easton),” Gomez said. “It’s something I’ve always looked forward to and would be anxious for. I don’t know what to expect it will be like; I am using each game this season to prepare for (Thanksgiving).”
Friday’s Mid-State 38 Delaware Division game at Ridge could serve as excellent preparation for Gomez and Phillipsburg (6-1, 4-0; ranked No. 4 in the region by lehighvalleylive) who will play the Red Devils (6-0, 4-0) for the division championship (7 p.m.).
It is the final game for Phillipsburg before the NJSIAA North Group 4 sectionals begin Nov. 2. The Stateliners are currently seeded No. 1 in the sectional and would almost surely lock up the top seed with a win over Ridge, which would mean three home playoff games (the sectional finals are at home sites this season).
“I think it means a lot to us,” Gomez said. “It’s not the most important goal on our lost but it sets up games that will be bigger goals for this season. It’s very important for our season.”
"Solid for us"
The 6-foot-1, 170-pound Gomez has been very important to the Stateliners’ success this fall. He’s been almost perfect on extra points (25-of-27), has made the one field goal he has tried, has been either booming or placing punts and been very effective doing the same on kickoffs.
“We kind of take Mike for granted, but if you don’t have a kicker like him it’s something you really miss,” Phillipsburg head coach Frank Duffy said. “We’re really lucky to have Mike. He’s been solid for us, been consistent with all his kicks.”
Gomez came to kicking via a winding path. He played soccer when younger, When he did switch to football in sixth grade with the Phillipsburg Little Liners he was not just a kicker. "Football was my real love growing up," he said. "I played wide receiver, but I got hurt my freshman year and that took me away from kicking, which is what I could do better."
Gomez made sure he could do even better this fall at his game.
“I worked the most on getting stronger and getting more power into my kicks,” Gomez said. “Strength coach (Craig) Merrick does a great job with my lifting program and I really noticed a difference this year.”
So did Duffy.
“Mike focused on his craft in the offseason, and he’s really developed and strengthened his leg,” Duffy said.
Attention to detail
Gomez does all the kicking for the Stateliners and that requires different skills for each kick, and a constant attention.
“I have to stay focused on the game so I am ready when called to do whatever it is the team needs,” said Gomez, who pointed to the Hillsborough game (7-for-7 on extra points) as perhaps his best of 2018. “I mix it up on the sideline and might take a few kicks into the net if we’re near field goal range.”
Phillipsburg’s special teams have generally been outstanding in kickoff coverage and Gomez is a big reason why.
“Ideally all kickoffs are touchbacks, but we don’t prioritize a touchback over pinning (opposition returners) into corners when we can cover the kicks better,” Gomez said.
And if the kick fails, force can prevail.
“I’m in the tackling drills,” he said. “I’ve gotten a few hits in in games here and there. I like doing it,” Gomez said.
Top of the class
When not cracking down on kick returners, Gomez cracks the books. He takes four Advanced Placement courses -- calculus, chemistry, economics and English. “I like math the most, and English is the hardest,” he said. “I’d like to go to an engineering program. I’d love to kick in college but that can’t override the academics.”
Gomez has attended “kicking camps”, such as Penn, that act as showcases for kickers.
But while that future sounds awfully bright, the immediate future is Ridge and a division title.
“I think we are really focused to face an undefeated team in Ridge and we’re taking it as a big challenge,” Gomez said. “We’re ready to play a really good team and build off of this game.”
Brad Wilson may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @bradwsports. Find Lehigh Valley high school sports on Facebook.