The story of how Adam Merrill became Oak Hill’s placekicker comes straight out of the movies about high school football.

Well, if they ever made movies about high school football placekickers.

And Merrill, a 5-foot-7, 130-pound junior, comes directly from central casting.

Merrill may be tough to find on a field full of hulking football players twice his size. He may even be tough to single out in a game chock full of heroes like Saturday’s unforgettable Class D West semifinal between No. 2 Oak Hill and No. 3 Lisbon.

But what he meant to the Raiders’ dramatic 21-20 win can’t be overlooked, even though the duties he performs are too often overlooked by high school football coaches and fans.

Merrill converted all three of his extra point tries on the day. All were critical in a game decided by the slimmest of margins, but none was more nerve-wracking than the one he booted with 1:29 left after Parker Asselin’s 37-yard touchdown pass to Alex Mace tied the game at 20-20.

“I was pretty nervous,” Merrill said. “But I knew I could probably make it because coach (Stacen Doucette) has me kick every day in practice, and you’ve got to practice how you play.”

Merrill’s boot went end-over-end right down the middle and cleared the cross bar by plenty, adding more fuel to an inferno of celebration on an Oak Hill side that knew it was on the verge of hosting its first championship game since 1984.

“Adam’s cooler than the flip side of the pillow. I don’t know how he wasn’t crapping his pants,” said Asselin, who holds for Merrill on extra points. “We’ve got a high percentage on PATs. Adam pulls through. It’s his job on our team, and he does a great job at it.”

Merrill didn’t have the job at the start of the season, even though he’d been working towards earning it for some time.

“I go home every day and kick and kick and kick. In the snow and everything,” he said.”It’s mostly against the garage door. My mom doesn’t really like it.”

A couple of weeks into the regular season, Doucette noticed Merrill kicking on his own before and after practice. He sent him out for his first extra point in the Raiders’ 18-13 loss to Winthrop/Monmouth in Week 4. Merrill made his first try, and the job was his.

But Merrill injured his leg in practice in the following week of practice and had to sit out the Raiders’ next game at Old Orchard Beach. Oak Hill ended up falling to the Seagulls by, yep, one point.

“After that he healed, and I told him all year, ‘We’re going to win the game on your foot at some point during the season,” Doucette said. “Since he’s been healthy and able to kick, I don’t know what his percentage is, but he’s probably (making) about 90 percent.”

That’s an exceptional conversion rate for high school kickers. The average kicker probably hovers somewhere between 50 and 75 percent on PATs, which is why many coaches fancy going for two even though the percentages are at least slightly worse.

But a single point can make all of the difference in the world, and not just in a one-point game. On Friday night, Spruce Mountain converted on one of two PAT tries and ended up beating Wells by nine points. Coach Walter Polky said the difference between it being a one-possession or two-possession game was immeasurable as the Phoenix spent the fourth quarter trying to protect their lead.

The reluctance of most coaches to rely on a teenager’s toes is understandable, if somewhat misguided.

“It’s a hard skill,” Doucette said. “And it’s not always your best player kicking, either. In high school football, you win or lose with your best player, unless you have the confidence in your kicker.”

Thanks to Merrill’s dedication and steely nerves, Doucette had that confidence. So did Kennebunk coach Joe Rafferty when he sent his kicker, Jake Lary, to boot an 18-yard field goal with five seconds left in a two point win over Westbrook on Friday night.

For years, I’ve been lobbying for coaches to pick out the smallest kid in the freshman class, give him a ball and tee, send him to the goal post at the other end of the field, and tell him to come back to see him when he can consistently make eight out of 10 from PAT range.

Of course, it’s hard to do that when all virtually every freshman dreams of is scoring touchdowns. It’s rare to find a kid like Merrill, who dreams of winning a game with his foot and is willing to put in the unglamorous work to make that dream come true.

Merrill’s practice routine consists of five kicks from the middle, five to 10 from each hash mark, moving back five yards after each set. The routine and repetition can get tedious, but when you practice how you play, the reward is almost inevitable.

“I take three steps back, two steps to the side and I drive the ball,” Merrill said.

Folks in Sabattus, Wales and Litchfield have that routine, and the Merrill’s garage door, to thank for another home game next week.

Randy Whitehouse is a staff writer. He can be reached via e-mail at [email protected]


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