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SDBR Exclusive: Kick’n It with Carney

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John Carney is a Chargers legend. He is the franchise’s all-time leading scorer and has scored the fifth-most points in league history.

Carney kicked for the Chargers from 1990 to 2000, a stretch that included the franchise’s lone Super Bowl appearance following the 1994 season. He was named to the All Pro Team twice with the Chargers (1990 and 1994) and a third time with the Giants (2008).

Today, John and his wife, Holly, have three children. Luke, 23, dominates in Crossfit. J.D., 17, is a quarterback and track star. And Kiki, 15, excels in track and tennis.

Carney is the founder of the Carney Training Facility in Carlsbad, which opened three years ago to teach kicking (of course); strength and conditioning training; and sport-specific training. In other words, to introduce you to muscles in your body you weren’t even aware existed.

Carney is also hired frequently to serve as a kicking consultant for NFL teams. To date, Carney has worked with the Saints, Eagles, Browns and Dolphins.

On the day I visited John at his gym, his nephew, Cody, was visiting from Rhode Island. It didn’t take long for Cody to be bent over sucking wind, telling me, “This is why I live across country.”

But Cody loved every minute of the butt kicking his Uncle John dished out. Not only that, John did the entire circuit of 28 stations right along with the group. Once John handed off the class to his lead trainer, Tyler Weiss (a college kicker with his sights on the NFL), I sat down with No. 3 for our one-on-one.

SDBR: This season we have seen players getting picked up, released and then brought back, sometimes all within a week. What is it like for a player in the NFL to go through the fear of the unknown?

JC: I did go through a series of training camps and tryouts trying to kind of build a resume and to continue to build experience until — over three years later — the Chargers really gave me an opportunity to stay around for a regular season. Fear is a strong word; it’s certainly the reality of the situation and even more so today. These NFL teams are very impatient with their kickers and punters and pulling the trigger on replacing them quickly, or more quickly than they have in the past and sometimes to their own demise. So it’s certainly a reality and a motivation for the kickers and punters to really stay on top of their game, to really focus and to train with the thought, “If I don’t take care of my business and prepare well and perform well on a regular basis, then I too will be back in the free agency line looking for another job.”

At the end of the day it is emotionally taxing, but there are a lot of rewards. The opportunity to be a part of a team and when you step on the field to really make a difference in the outcome of that game is a very exciting challenge.

SDBR: Unlike any other position that can make a mistake and somewhat quickly recover, a kicker’s mistakes can immediately result in a win or loss. How does a kicker prepare for that type of pressure?

JC: Well, you really start that preparation every Monday going into that week’s practice. You expect that game to come down to one of your kicking opportunities, and that’s what you prepare for. Physically, mentally, spiritually you are preparing for that for situation to arise, so when it does happen you’re not caught off guard. You’ve prepared yourself the best you can, with your best knowledge to give it your best shot of making that kick.

Do they all go through? No, they don’t, but if you prepare and expect the situation to arise then at least you’re ahead of the game when it does show up during the course of the game. That’s what you expect and that’s what’s you’ve prepared for the entire week. And in the off season you prepare for those winning field-goal opportunities.

SDBR: What are your thoughts on a high school or college kicker understanding what they do off the field is as important as on the field? And how they prepare overall at such a young age for the type of pressure the kicker position entails?

JC: When kids go out for punter or kicker, they usually have a soccer background. They’re usually athletic and they enjoy the aspects of kicking and watching the ball spiral as a punter or rotate well and go through the uprights as a kicker.

It’s fun for them, it’s exciting and at a young age they don’t realize the gravity of their performance until all of a sudden it happens within a game, where they make a kick and everyone is happy that they won the game or, unfortunately, they miss a kick and everyone looks at them like they’re arch enemy No. 1. They went out there and didn’t give it their all or they should have done something different in their performance. But they realize at some point that at this stage in their career, “Hey, what I do out on the field really makes a difference and I should probably prepare a little bit better, detail my work and become a student of my game and a master of my craft and not just go out there and bash a ball around just cause this is fun, when in fact the consequences of my performance may create or can really sway the course of a game or opportunities to come out a winner at the end.”

SDBR: Football is such a big part of a community. I remember when you were in New Orleans playing for the Saints in 2005 after Hurricane Katrina. What was that like playing for a city that was looking for any kind of positivity, and then you kick the game winning field goal against the Panthers?

JC: It was a very difficult time for everybody that had a New Orleans address. We went through one of the most horrific national disasters on U.S. soil. They were still trying to evacuate people, trying to save people, and here we are stuck playing a football game. And to start the season against a team that was chosen to win the division that year, the Carolina Panthers. It was very emotional for everybody, somewhat hard to focus on football at the time when you know your city was going through such a really tough time. So we marched into Carolina and there is actually fans cheering for us, with signs supporting the people of New Orleans and the Gulf South victims of Hurricane Katrina. It was a really bizarre and surreal environment. We came out and played some really inspired football and came out with the “W.” Hitting a field goal at the end of the game, yeah, that was uplifting.

We then go back to San Antonio, where we were stationed for the year, and that’s a whole other story and what a debacle that was. That following week we went to some shelters that were housing displaced citizens of New Orleans and they were running up and hugging us; they were so excited that we won a football game. It was just something they could grasp onto, something that was familiar. It lifted their spirts and gave them some sense of normalcy. You know, that life’s going to go on. Their football team won, their city is gonna be rebuilt. It was just an optimistic week for a lot of people, let’s put it that way.

SDBR: That experience in New Orleans really demonstrated how much a football team can mean to its community. What do you feel the residents of San Diego will miss if the Chargers move to Los Angeles? And in your opinion, why do the Chargers need to stay in San Diego?

JC: Well, there is a rich history of the Chargers being in San Diego for really the majority of their lifespan. They are a pillar of our community. The Chargers organization does amazing charitable work and sponsorship of all kinds and for amazing civic events and foundations. You know, just great, great outreach.

The pride the city has in their team, just as many cities take their sports team’s success, their personality, their reputation, they wear that on their sleeve. I know when I go around the country and if I’m near a sports city, I just see their logo. I go to Seattle, I think of the Seattle Seahawks and I think of all the players and great games and what that team means to that community. The same here in San Diego.

When people from all over the country think San Diego, they think of the Chargers, they think San Diego Zoo, they think great weather, and not only that, they think of a great place to host a Super Bowl. That is what really saddens me. I want the Chargers to stay here as much as anybody. I loved playing here and representing the San Diego Chargers and I would love to see them bring a championship back to this city. It’s a special team for a number of reasons, but it’s also a special team because of where they are located.

SDBR: So many players have left their mark with the city and community and then stayed in San Diego, such as yourself and your friend and teammate, Junior Seau. Without a team here, the community will lose that. San Diego will lose those types of connections and role models, which I don’t feel the community truly understands. When you look back at the impact Seau had, what were some of your best memories?

Photos courtesy CarneyCoaching.com.

JC: That’s a tough one … I have a million. Junior as a player, from a professional standpoint, I had never been around a player who was as emotionally involved in the preparation and the competitiveness of his game. I loved being his teammate because he not only raised the bar for the defense, but he raised the bar for the entire team. Observing him prepare mentally, physically and spiritually for a football game not only on game day but for the entire week was inspiring and motivational to everybody. To watch him practice with the speed and effort he put into every practice was unrivaled.

Rodney Harrison, who came in as a young rookie, was wise enough to get under Junior’s wing early and learn how this pro game should be played and how he should prepare. Rodney certainly had a phenomenal career and I think if you were to ask Rodney he would definitely credit the mentoring he received from Junior. As a friend, he was just a very loyal friend who was funny, who was energetic, and who was a very happy guy. You know he brought light to the room when he walked in. [Long pause] It’s hard to believe he’s not around.

SDBR: Agreed. There is so much of his presence still here in San Diego, and a little bit of him in all of us. I hope the city remembers that without the Chargers we would have never had Junior Seau to call our own.

On to a different topic … I have always wanted to ask a kicker about the opposing teams calling a timeout to ice the kicker. What are your thoughts on that?

JC: Well, no, it actually works to our advantage. He’s gonna be more comfortable, be able to recheck his target line and probably have a better success rate. The last thing you want to do as the opposing coach is, if you see the opposing team is rushing the field goal and it doesn’t look like the kicker has had time to go through his whole routine, do not call a timeout. Rushing any athlete is usually a recipe for disaster.

But I think it does bother somebody if you kick it and make it and then the ref says a timeout was called and you have to kick it again. The reason being is, getting technical here, for the majority of the game you have K Ball One and K Ball Two and they are broken in the best prior to the game. K Ball Three and Four aren’t broken in as well and Five and Six probably not at all. So that critical kick was probably with K Ball One or Two and it is not going to get back in time, so you then have to use Three or Four. For the most part, most kickers don’t mind the timeout and you get better every season after your rookie season.

SDBR: Going through things like that or even little tricks of the trade, when a team gets to the point of releasing a veteran kicker to go with a rookie, does that put a team at a disadvantage? Like in the situation this season with the Chargers releasing Nick Novack and rolling with Josh Lambo?

JC: Yes, Josh, like all new kickers, will have an adjustment period. If he is ever looking for a trainer, I would be happy to work with him. Where Lambo might be more fortunate than most rookie kickers is he has two veterans to help him adapt with Mike Scifres and Mike Windt. So he’s got two veterans and a veteran coach in Kevin Spencer, so he can learn a lot from those guys so he’s got a big benefit there.

Lambo is a very talented kid, but he is going to go through some learning curves. This is his first 20-game season, with the pre-season games, so he is gonna have to live and learn on the go or he can attach himself to some veterans that can help him, which is what he might be doing, and if not he is always welcome here.

After wrapping the interview with Carney it hit me that I just interviewed a likely Hall of Fame candidate. In fact, this year Carney is on the online fan vote ballot. While he doesn’t know how far he will get in the voting process, he is convinced no kicker gets in before Morten Andersen. Andersen is the top scorer in NFL history and also on the Pro Football Hall of Fame fan vote ballot this year.

The athletes working out in the gym the day I visited the Carney Training Facility were laser focused as if they were already in the NFL. This is the work ethic Carney injects in his athletes from Day One. As Carney went through film of their morning kicking session inch by inch, they soaked it all up like sponges and when they hit the gym for their circuit there was a tenacity about them that had John Carney written all over it.

Carney took his career seriously and excelled because he never stopped working. He respected his teammates and represented all of his teams with professionalism and class. He participated in every community he played in, and upon retirement he graduated to the next level of football in coaching. Carney still continues to mentor youth in the city where he spent a decade and deeply bonded with the community. Fortunately for Chargers fans, that is right here in America’s Finest City.

If you are interested in training at the Carney Training Facility, visit CarneyCoaching.com. Open gym times are Monday through Friday from 6pm to 9pm. Bootcamp is on Saturdays from 7:30am to 9am. Follow them on Facebook and Twitter @CarneyCoaching.


What is your favorite John Carney memory? Please share inside our message boards!


Jody Taylor is a retired women’s pro football player and former media relations director for the Women’s Professional Football League. She has been published in Sports Illustrated, CNN, Time and several sports media outlets covering the WPFL, Arena Football League and NFL. She is the founder of Sixty5 Media in San Diego and coaches for the NFL’s Flag/Play 60 program in San Diego. Follow her @RealJodyTaylor

About Jody Taylor

Jody Taylor is a retired women's pro football player and former media relations director for the Women's Professional Football League. She has been published in Sports Illustrated, CNN, Time and several sports media outlets covering the WPFL, Arena Football League and NFL. She is the founder of Sixty5 Media in San Diego and coaches for the NFL's Flag/Play 60 program in San Diego.

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