With all of their weapons on offense, the Batavia High Blue Devils have scored 36 touchdowns en route to a 5-1 record in Section V varsity football competition this season.
On 31 occasions, the Batavia placekicker has trotted out onto the field, looking to put the finishing touches on those scoring drives or spectacular plays that resulted in six points.
Batavia will be facing Clymer/Sherman/Panama, a Section 6 school, at 7 p.m. Friday at Depew High School to replace the previously scheduled game at Newark/Marion, which is unable to play due to COVID-19.
And, SHE has been successful on 28 of those point-after-touchdown attempts, proving herself as a valuable contributor to Coach Brennan Briggs’ team.
She is Julia Petry, (kicking above and photo at right), an 11th-grade scholar-athlete who has put in much time and effort to earn the right to wear jersey No. 40 on the otherwise 31-man Blue Devils’ squad.
“Julia does a very good job kicking PATs for us. She works hard at it and the hard work has paid off,” Coach Briggs said.
After being placed in concussion protocol due to an injury sustained when the team’s bus had an accident returning home two weeks ago, Petry has been cleared to play in this Friday’s game.
She said it was very difficult for her to have to watch from the bench last weekend when Batavia suffered a 27-26 defeat to visiting Honeoye Falls-Lima. The Blue Devils missed on two extra point attempts in that contest.
“Obviously, the whole game I was upset that I couldn’t play,” she said. “I was there on the sidelines, but I wanted to be out there.”
Petry’s journey to becoming Batavia’s varsity kicker (she also shares time on kickoffs) began at a young age, hanging out with older brother, John IV, and other boys when her mom, Jennifer, operated a child care center.
“Growing up I used to take my brother’s toys all the time and play with them,” she recalled. “My mom used to run a daycare center, so I always was around a lot of boys – and had this connection with them; I’ve always thought that I’ve had several older brothers because of that.”
Playing sports became a large part of her life and that continues as she participates in summer soccer and high school football, basketball and (boys) lacrosse. Previously, she was on the girls’ soccer team.
Last season, the 5-foot, 9-inch Petry was the placekicker for the Batavia junior varsity team.
“I kicked during the COVID year on jayvees,” she said, adding that last year was the only time she experienced the fact that football is a contact sport.
“There was one time last season at Livonia when there was a bad snap and it hit my knee, and I actually picked it up and tried to run with it,” she said. “Two Livonia guys just came at me (and tackled her). I actually got up smiling from it, and said, ‘Did you see that?’ Everybody on the sidelines was like, ‘Yeah, Petry!’
This season, she’s hearing the cheers from her father, John; mom, brother and a multitude of Batavia fans who have elevated her to heroine status.
“It definitely feels good,” she said. “There’s a little distance (between her and her teammates) because I’m here to kick. I’m not on the line or whatever. But overall, I feel part of the team -- the family and the community that we have.”
She said she credits Sam Watts of East Aurora, owner of Special Teams Academy, for “making me the kicker that I am.”
“He took me from soccer player to football player. It seems from the outside that they’re very similar but when you get down to the details, there are big, important changes,” she said.
Petry attended Watts’ three-day camp earlier this year and also has received instruction through group sessions. She said she practices what has been preached to her about technique and drills to increase leg strength.
“I use what he taught me every day,” she said. “A bunch of the warm-ups he gave me, I use them every day and incorporate them every day in practice. There’s one – called one-step where there’s one step between you and the ball and that’s a really good warm-up.”
She then shared her pre-kick routine and the way in which she approaches the ball.
“First, I just make sure I’m spotting where I’m kicking,” she said. “So, normally I’ll pick a tree or a branch or something that’s really noticeable so I can always find it; to visualize where I’m placing the ball through the uprights.”
When she takes steps to the side, she starts thinking, “OK, I need to take my jab step, which is my very first step (straight on as she approaches the ball), thinking of the things I need to do to be technically sound. Then, set-up. It’s always one breath, look up through where my target was, and then one breath on looking down.
“Then, I give (holder) Jesse (Reinhart) the cue and I’m gone. I don’t know how many people can hear it, but I’ll look at him and I’ll say, ‘Yeah or I’m good.’ Abel Hammer is the center – he’s been very consistent.”
Asked if Reinhart turns the ball so the laces are on the non-kicking side, Petry said, “We’ve tried to turn it, but sometimes there’s not enough time.”
Point-after-touchdowns are kicked from the 10 and with the 10 yards of the end zone, each one travels 20 yards to the goal posts. Her three misses this season were wide to the left, Petry said.
Briggs said he’s pleased with Petry’s technique and leg strength, also attributing her improvement to time spent at Watts’ camp.
“We have not attempted any field goals this season, but I see her moving the ball back during practice and she does well,” Briggs added. “I am not entirely sure what her range is but I think we could connect on a 25-yard field goal or so.”
Petry is a bit more confident than that, stating that a 30-yard field goal is within her range. On kickoffs, her deepest boot carried to the opposition’s 15.
Looking ahead, Batavia has two more regular season games before sectional playoffs and, beyond that, Petry hopes to be the team’s starting kicker next year, but understands there could be competition for the job.
She said she has thought about kicking in college.
“I know that I will have to work really, really hard to get there, but I also know – myself personally – that if I set my mind to something and I’m driven enough, I could do it,” she said. “Right now, I’ve been college hunting, but focusing on what school academically would be best for me.”
Petry has a 4.097 grade point average (97 on a scale of 100) and is looking to pursue a degree in Physical Therapy. Along with her academics and athletics, she works 16 hours a week at McDonald’s.
All in all, she said she’s making the most of her football career, following in the footsteps of her dad and brother – both former Blue Devils.
“It has been quite an experience, and I’ve loved every moment of it,” she said.
Photo above by Steve Ognibene.