By DAVE O’SULLIVAN
Imagine being 13 years old and getting your first taste of varsity football in front of more than a thousand fans at the Battle At The Beach season kick-off event at Ocean City High School. The late August sun already making you sweat, then pile on a bunch of butterflies in your stomach and it almost seems like the world has started spinning.
That’s what young Nate Kashey was dealing with at the end of last summer when he made his debut for Mainland Regional High against rival Egg Harbor Township in the first game of the weekend-long showcase that featured some of the best teams in the region.
Early in the second quarter, Mainland star senior running back Ja’Briel Mace broke free for a 21-yard touchdown run. Suddenly, Kashey was thrust into the varsity football spotlight, ready or not. He trotted out to the 10-yard line, went through his routine, and calmly kicked the extra point to give Mainland a 7-0 lead. He went on to repeat that — a dead-solid, perfect point-after kick — four more times as the Mustangs rolled to a 37-0 victory.
“That was crazy,” Kashey recalls. “I was very nervous, but in my head that whole game I was just like, ‘OK, it’s the same thing I’ve been doing in practice, just a lot more people are watching now.’ I knew I just had to follow the same technique and everything I had been practicing for months prior to that. I executed well. I was crazy nervous, though, to be honest. There were thoughts of everything going through my head. But I just got out there and tried to make sure my technique was the same thing I had been doing.
“I feel like I needed to make those extra points (in the season opener) to solidify myself as the team’s kicker.”
The Mainland football program has had a string of outstanding kickers, from Jim Cooper to Mike Juliano to, most recently, Brady Panas. For years, Mustangs coach Chuck Smith, and Bob Coffey before him, never had to worry about the kicking game. And Smith might not get any gray hairs for the next three years, either. Kashey was just about automatic this past fall, converting all but a handful of his extra points and even adding a 25-yard field goal. It got to the point late in the season that when the Mustangs crossed midfield and faced a fourth down situation, the Stangs’ student cheering section would shout in unison — “We’re in Kashey territory, kick the field goal!”
The now 14-year-old doesn’t quite have the leg to be knocking home 40-yard field goals just yet, but with his consistency in what he does and his bubbly, infectious personality he’s endeared himself to just about everybody in the program.
“I go and see the youth programs all the time and saw Nate kick here and there, but you don’t really put a lot of stock into kicking at that level,” Mainland coach Chuck Smith said during the season last fall. “In the summer, coach Jim Cooper, who runs 5-Star Kicking and coaches Nate, he reached out to me and said, ‘hey, this kid is automatic from this part of the field and in.’ I didn’t really think about it at that time, but he really was like the old Super Toe (toy), you hit him on the head and it goes right through the uprights. He’s really been a positive asset to have on our football team. All he does is kick and he takes that on as his job. It’s nice to have a young kid come in because we haven’t had a kicker in a few years, and we were known for having great kickers for a very long time. He’s a big part of our success. It’s so nice when you don’t have to worry about the PATs.”
Kashey also has a great bond with fellow freshman John Franchini, who was thrust into the starting quarterback job when incumbent starter Marlon Leslie decided to transfer back to Pleasantville just before the season started.
“During the season we both had each other’s backs,” Kashey said of Franchini. “We knew that he was going to be leading the team, and him and Ja’Briel helped me make all those PATs. He would always come over to me if did something bad or good and help me get through it.”
“It’s great when you have freshmen making a big impact on a season as important as this one for us,” Smith said. “Guys like John Franchini and Nate Kashey, and some other freshmen, who are great kids to have on the team and who play their role in the right fashion and fit right in. They are going to be big parts of this program down the line, and they are finding their niche right away.”
“It was good for Nate. The one thing that was really great for Nate was the whole team was really welcoming to him. With him being a freshman, and Johnny being a freshman — I remember walking into the stadium with John Franchini and we were like, ‘OK, go freshmen!’ We didn’t know what was going to happen, so that was our chant every time. It was a cool season. The seniors, the coaches were all so kind and supportive of Nate. There’s something about football that gives you that brotherhood,” said Kashey’s mom, Stacey. “The parents were wonderful and so kind. We are a community that comes together — three different towns that come together — and you really felt that when you were in the stadium this year. My stepson played football at Mainland, and it was just something different this year. There was just total kindness and support. I’m thrilled my son had the opportunity to see all that this year.
Kashey never really expected to be a well-known athlete on Friday nights. He figured he’d be more known for Friday afternoon soccer exploits. But he enjoyed kicking so much that he gave up his soccer career for a football helmet and kicking tee.
“Playing competitive soccer is what set the stage for football. This was really my first year as a kicker. I started doing it last year in eighth grade, but I wasn’t the designated kicker. I played whatever position they needed me to, like guard, because we were short on offensive linemen,” Kashey said. “It was maybe the fourth week of my eighth grade season. It was kind of the same thing as soccer, so I just went with it.”
Stacey said she was very surprised that her son wanted to change sports once he got to high school.
“Soccer was really his sport of choice, he played travel and on a developmental team with the Philadelphia Union for three years, so soccer was his main sport. But he said, ‘mom, I’m in eighth grade now and I think I want to go play football with all my friends.’ He had been traveling so much with soccer so he hadn’t been able to hang out with his friends. The coaches were impressed (with his kicking ability) and he really started training in the offseason in eighth grade before his freshman year with coach Cooper at 5-Star Kicking,” she said. “I was really surprised. He tried playing football in first grade but he was really afraid. My father (Bob Sandelier) was a football player who played at Nebraska, and he only had two daughters, so he loves the fact of having a grandson now who plays football.”
Stacey recalls that first game last year, at the Battle at the Beach, and feeling her heart jump up into her throat when Mainland scored and it was time for her son to make his varsity debut.
“I was a nervous wreck. I literally held my breath. We really had no idea what would happen. We knew from training for six months with coach Cooper that Nate could make it. But we didn’t know how it would be when there were other players coming at him. It was make-it-or-break-it time, and he went out there and made it. I was like, ‘oh, my gosh!’ And he just kept going. On his 25th point-after was the first time he missed. I would hold my breath, I would cry. I was so emotional. I would video every single kick and send them to coach Cooper to see what he thought,” she said. “We used to always laugh because at the beginning of the game, when they all come running out, my and my husband would say that’s the scariest part of the whole game because we didn’t want Nate to get trampled. He was the smallest one out there. But when you’d see them all standing for the national anthem, the big, tall guys would rest their elbows on Nate’s helmet because they were so much bigger than him. It was just such a cool experience. Nate’s a really good student and we contemplated where to send him to high school, but what has happened here — and the experience he’s had at Mainland — has been so positive. Nate is the youngest in my house and the last of our five kids going through Mainland, so we’ve been at Mainland for a long time and it’s just been a great experience overall.”
For his part, Kashey said he’s learned a lot in just a short time as the Mustangs’ starting place kicker.
“I learned that there are going to be ups and downs and you really need to focus on the next game, work with the team and play as a team. We were going for those wins, fighting so hard in the playoffs, and we really bonded as a team. That’s what this team was all about. We got as far as we did because we were all as one. I’ve said it so many times, but that’s the best way to describe it — our team was one,” Kashey said. “I just want to get better every year as a kicker and keep beating my goals and progressing. I want for us to keep winning. I also want to become more of a field goal kicker, get stronger and really develop myself as more of a weapon than just PATs.”
Mainland is graduating Mace, one of the school’s all-time best players, and a host of other seniors, but Kashey is hoping the younger players can keep guiding the Mustangs to the kind of season they had in 2022, when they were one win away from reaching the state championship game. The Stangs fell just short as Millville rallied for a late victory on a chilly day in late November.
“It was amazing. I’ve never been a part of something like that,” Kashey said of the 2022 season. “You look back and see hundreds of kids jumping up and down, screaming at the top of their lungs. We had all these playmakers on the team making all these great plays — it seemed like we could score a 90-yard touchdown on any play. It was an amazing season.
“The experience of being out there as a team and the whole season — from the camps in June until the last game in December, the season was long but because of that well bonded. Whether it was practice, training, in the locker room, we all did it as one.”
And if it ever comes down to a Nate Kashey extra point to decide whether the Mustangs play for a championship — or win one — he knows he’ll be ready. He has a grade-point average well north of 4.0 and is meticulous in his preparation in everything he does.
Said his mother, “Nate’s that kid — and maybe because he is the youngest in our family — he’s got that very bubbly personality and he’s a very kind child. When he was little he would run through the house, determined to catch up to his brother. And that’s his mindset. If he puts his mind to something, he will accomplish it. This year, he’s taking Geometry and Algebra II and he’s got straight A’s. That’s just who Nate is. Kicking is really good for him with the way his mind works. He has that discipline.”
Contact Dave O’Sullivan: firstname.lastname@example.org; on Twitter @GDsullysays
FOOTBALL: Mainland PK Nate Kashey looking for bigger, better things after standout freshman season in 2022
By DAVE O’SULLIVAN