He may only be a sophomore, but the legend of St. James Wildcat kicker Alec Mahler has started to grow.
A popular one is that he just showed up in Valdez’s office one day and announced he wanted to play football.
As Valdez will tell you, fact is better than fiction.
It all goes back to three years ago when Mahler was in the seventh grade. Valdez was sitting out on a bench in front of the athletic building at the old school site in St. James overlooking the football field. The coach was sitting alongside star quarterback Lowell Narcisse. Both were in somber mood.
It was only a few days after the team’s jamboree in which the highly-touted Narcisse suffered a knee injury that would wipe out his senior season.
Mahler was part of a group on the field for middle school tryouts.
“He got another kid to hold the ball and he’s kicking a field goal and he’s making it from about 15-20 yards. Then he backs up and he’s kicking again,” Valdez recalled. “I turn to Lowell, ‘you see this?’ Lowell was like, ‘I’m looking at that and what’s that?’ ’m like ‘he’s got to be from the middle school.’
I call Coach Baumann and I said, ‘come see this,’ said Valdez, referring to St. James special teams coach Jonathan Baumann.
“He (Baumann) was like, ‘that’s a middle school ball,’” Valdez remembered.
“I said, ‘get him a high school and a tee and let’s see if he can kick it with a high school ball and tee. The kids started to notice we were noticing we were starting to pay attention and he puts on a show. He’s on center stage now and knows he has an audience,” said Valdez.
“I played football one year. I think I was 12, maybe,” explained Mahler. “I played kicker and linebacker. I didn’t really think anything of football. I just played it because I quit soccer one year. I just wanted to try it out.
“My seventh grade year, I didn’t know much about it. I got my friend to just put the ball on his foot and just kicked it and I just kept doing it over and over again. Coach Baumann came get me and it all started from there.”
At that point, the Wildcat varsity players had gathered waiting for a bus to transport the squad to the team’s new football field at the school’s current location in Vacherie.
“By the time we finish watching film and getting ready for practice, the kids are coming out and they see him and they’re like, ‘who’s that, who’s that? Wow, wow, wow,’” recalled Valdez. “He’s almost kicking his leg out. It’s all adrenaline right now. He’s drilling it. I don’t care if he’s making it or not.”
“I get him to come over and ask his name. He said he was in the seventh grade. I asked him, ‘have you ever kicked before?’ He said no. He said he played soccer a little bit and baseball,” said Valdez.
It was then time to depart for the new stadium.
“I said, ‘get your stuff. You are going ride with me. I’m driving and you can ride with me. He asked, ‘am I in trouble?’ I said, ‘no, you are not in trouble, but I need to call your parents. He called his mom and was like, ‘Hey, mom, this is Coach Valdez, the head football coach wants to talk to you.’
“She was like, ‘Coach, what did he do?’ I said, ‘no, no ma’am calm down. Your kid has a phenomenal, phenomenal opportunity to be really good.’ She was like, ‘what are you talking about?’
He relates the story of watching Mahler kick.
“He’s got talent. He’s probably up there with my senior kicker. He’s almost outkicking my senior kicker right now,” Valdez explains to Maher’s mother. “I’m bringing him to the stadium in Vacherie and we’re going to have him kick with the older guys around. He did, and you could see he was worn out. He probably hadn’t kicked that much in his life.
“Afterward, I had a conference with the mom and dad and we made an agreement that we were going to let him stay with the middle school in the seventh grade, but I told them, ‘eighth grade, he’s going to start kicking varsity.’ We made the agreement because with didn’t want it to be too soon and too fast.”
Watching Mahler kick, Wildcat players started calling him, “Super Toe.”
“I don’t know how it started. A couple of people still call me that. I was called ‘Puppy’ because I was so young. A lot of coaches still call me Puppy but not as often,” said Mahler.
It was soon discovered that Mahler also could punt.
“He said, ‘I’ve never really punted before.’ I said, ‘well, just give it a shot.’ He took to it like a fish to water,” recalled.
His past soccer experience, Mahler said, helped him with his punting.
“I played goalie in soccer. I wasn’t the biggest kid. I was short but I had a lot of power. I used to punt the ball from goal to goal,” said Mahler.
Valdez recalled one of Mahler’s early exploits as a punter.
“(Two years ago, we played West St. John here. We conventional punt and we rugby punt. Coach Baumann determines on how the defense plays (whether it’s a conventional or rugby punt). He (Mahler) gets the snap and gets ready to punt, and he just took off and ran for like 40 yards. I’m like, ‘OK, Alec. Cool’”
Valdez also understood he knew enough about football to basically let his kicker do his own thing.
“As a head coach, you don’t talk too much to kickers,” said Valdez. “You want them to have their own world. We talk maybe once or twice a week, mostly in passing.
“When it’s good, I don’t say too much to him. When it’s bad, I don’t say too much to him. I just let him and Coach Baumann figure those things out.”
“It makes my job real easy. He makes me sound and look really good,” Baumann said of coaching Mahler.
“He allows you to do a lot of things that normal high school kickers won’t necessarily allow you to do,” Baumann continued. “Especially on kickoff and punt team, his versatility and ability allows us to be very non-high school with a lot of our special teams.”
Mahler’s ability, especially to kick the ball into the end zone on kickoffs, said Baumann, has turned the young kicker into a major threat for the Wildcats.
“On kickoffs, in high school, once the ball goes into the end zone, it’s dead,” Baumann said. “That’s one less thing we have to worry about.
“We have a very good coverage team. My guys do a very good job, but it only takes one guy to miss and assignment or a tackle, and that’s a touchdown. That’s a huge momentum play. He (Mahler) is an eraser. He puts it in the end zone and that’s one last thing to worry about.”
Mahler averages between 60-62 yards on his kickoffs and is generally good from 40 yards in on field goals. As a punter, his average is 42.8 yards per kick.
That has allowed Mahler to develop into perhaps the best combination kicker/punter in the state. Still, he’s only a sophomore.
“I think he’s got a lot to learn with consistency. To be more consistent with field goals and extra points. He has to be more consistent with placements of punts. There is still plenty that he can grow into from a kickoff standpoint to be able to kick it directionally and deep where we want it. Right now, he’s just kicking, boom, and lets it go,” said Baumann.
All kickers have to pace themselves in order to not wear out their legs long before game day.
“Normally, we get outside and I warm up for 10-20 minutes and then we do special teams,” Mahler explained. “For the rest of practice, it’s kind of laid back. Normally, I’ll work on a couple of things and then I’ll stop. At the end of practice, we’ll do a couple of field goals or punt.
“It’s not like all kicking, or my leg would be sore all week. I have to kick every day so that, so come Friday, my legs don’t get sore.”
Mahler also has to be weary of how much he kicks because of the potential affects on his leg since he is both a kicker and punter.
“I don’t find that much difference. I find if I kick too much, my groin ends up hurting. If I punt too much, my quad hurts. It’s just different movements,” he said.
So, he treats his kicking workouts much like a weightlifted would in terms of working different body parts.
“Monday and Wednesday we do kickoff and extra points. Tuesday and Thursday we do punt. It’s a little bit of each,” Mahler said.
At a young age, Mahler has learned that all kickers face the occasional slump.
“Punting, it hasn’t been that bad. Sometimes I will miss a couple of extra points. It’s just something that happens. You can’t think about it. The more you think about it, the more it messes you up. The quicker I take my mind off of it, the better off I am,” said Mahler.
Success has come quickly for Mahler. Because of that, he gets a chance to kick in the Superdome as a high school sophomore and with a state championship at stake when St. James takes on Jennings at 7 p.m. Friday in the Class 3A title game.
“It would be amazing,” Mahler said of winning a state title, “especially with all the hard work we put in in the summer and the school year. It would be amazing.”