Dartmouth kicker brings ‘happy energy’ to team

Owen Zalc

Owen Zalc Lisa Schlager photograph

Owen Zalc

Owen Zalc Chloe Broeker—Chloe Broeker

Dartmouth College place kicker Owen Zalc during a Sept. 13, 2023, practice on Memorial Field in Hanover, N.H.

Dartmouth College place kicker Owen Zalc during a Sept. 13, 2023, practice on Memorial Field in Hanover, N.H. valley news — Tris Wykes


Valley News Staff Writer

Published: 10-07-2023 1:57 PM

HANOVER — When Dartmouth College football place kicker Owen Zalc lined up last weekend for a potential game-winning boot at Penn, the freshman could take solace that he’d been through more pressure-packed situations in the past.

Such as the one that landed him at Dartmouth in the first place, a recruiting camp day on Memorial Field during the summer of 2022.

Zalc recalls there being roughly 40 place kickers there, each trying to land one or two admissions slots the Big Green would reserve for such performers in their class. What he and most others probably didn’t realize was that Dartmouth coaches watched their emotions as much as their accuracy.

The latter obviously had to be there, but how did a prospect react after nailing a kick or shanking one? Did a young man’s confidence boil over into cockiness? Did he plummet mentally after a miss?

Zalc carries a daily attitude that everything is great and that opportunities abound. Sammy McCorkle, Dartmouth’s interim head football coach, compares interactions with his kicker to those of big and little bulldogs Spike and Tyke in the old Tom and Jerry cartoons.

“He’s got a lot of happy energy, and that’s what you want in a kicker,” said McCorkle, whose 2-1 team hosts 1-2 Yale on Saturday afternoon in a matchup of Ivy League foes. “Someone who’s loosey-goosey and doesn’t mope around.”

Zalc played soccer growing up but added football kicking in seventh grade after reading a 1994 Washington Post story about his father, Eli, who was then playing both sports at Calvert High. Owen progressed into a three-time all-state player from Cary, N.C., who made 20 of his 26 field-goal attempts during his last three high school seasons, including 18 out of 18 from inside the 40-yard line.

Zalc, his father and his twin sister and brother made a road trip north during the summer of 2022, intertwining a vacation with stops at the recruiting camp days for Yale, Brown and Dartmouth. All three schools offered him admission slots, but Zalc, who scored 1440 on his SATs, had eyes only for the latter.

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Dartmouth was a step ahead of everyone else for me and Coach (Buddy) Teevens was a huge part of that,” Zalc said, referring to the Big Green’s late head coach. “I could tell he was a genuine person, and the campus, I fell in love with it as soon as I stepped on it.”

The first term on campus can be tense for Dartmouth freshman. Terminology, technique and the realization that Ivy League football is much better than widely thought combine to cause tension and a lot of frowns. Meanwhile, Zalc bounds around the field, occasionally karate-kicking an upright blocking can when he thinks no one is watching.

“Not a lot of people get to play college football, so I’m going to have fun with it,” Zalc said. “Practice is a big, productive hangout ,and everybody here has been through what (the freshmen) are going through. There are so many people who want to help.”

One of those is fifth-year long snapper Josh Greene, who watches Zalc, fellow freshman kicker Matisse Weaver and rookie snapper Andy Belles mill about with amusement.

“He’s super excitable, and the three young guys are like puppies,” Greene said. “He has a fun fire that’s going on all the time.”

Zalc also has unmistakable athleticism and leg power. He was part of high school track relay teams that competed at the national level and his potential seems immense.

“The stigma is that kickers aren’t athletic,” Greene said. “But Owen kicks the crap out of the ball, and he still has so much room to refine and grow into his body.

“You can hear the balls he hits from the stands. It’s a different kind of thud than we’ve been used to hearing.”

Zalc kicked three field goals at Penn, including the 37-yard winner in overtime for a 23-20 triumph. He’s had attempts blocked at New Hampshire and against the Quakers, but McCorkle said those were caused by protection breakdowns.

“Confidence is such a big part of kicking,” said Zach, who’s 5-foot-10 and 160 pounds. “You kick to make. You can’t kick to not miss. You have to do your full swing every time; otherwise, something will go wrong.”

Looks like Dartmouth made the right choice by plucking Zalc from the masses.

Tris Wykes can be reached at twykes@vnews.com.