This kicker always takes the extra step

This story appeared in the Pittsburgh edition of the October ESPN RISE Magazine.

Mark Perry spends every Friday night in the fall hoping Center (Monaca, Pa.) senior Luca Campos walks off the football field healthy. On Saturday mornings, Perry usually asks head football coach Larry Taddeo one simple question: How's Luca?

If you were Perry -- the Center boys' soccer coach -- you'd also be anxious about the status of your team's star player, who happens to double as the football squad's kicker.

"I'm sure coach Taddeo is the same on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday (when there are soccer games)," Perry says. "I figure if Luca gets hurt, I'm sure somebody will call me right away."

The 5-foot-9, 150-pound Campos is a rare two-sport, one-season talent -- one with unshakable confidence and a penchant for coming through in the clutch.

As a junior last fall, the midfielder earned All-WPIAL soccer honors for the third consecutive season and was an NSCAA/adidas All-Region selection. On the gridiron, he finished third on the team in scoring, converting 5-of-8 field-goal attempts and knocking in 28 extra points.

"I commend him for doing two sports," Taddeo says. "The kid is taking the extra step."

If you think the pressure of excelling at two sports in one season leaves Campos sleepless at night, you're sadly mistaken. He has confidence running through his body and the mental toughness to match.

"If you have your mind set, you could do anything you want," Campos says. "Really, I just try to think of me making that kick or making a good pass."

And it's been that way for as long as Campos has been lacing up his cleats for the Trojans.

In Center's home-opening soccer game last year, Ambridge was determined to slow down Campos by using a formation that kept between six and eight defenders close to the net. For a half, the tactic was effective as the teams went into their locker rooms scoreless. Frustrated at his squad's inability to mount an attack, Perry moved Campos from the midfield to center forward. Within the first 10 minutes of the second half, Campos had scored or assisted on four goals.

Later in the season, Campos squashed rival Beaver's postseason hopes with a three-goal, one-assist performance. He finished the year with 21 goals and 10 assists.

"He could beat you in a couple different ways," Perry says. "Not just scoring (himself), but he created scoring (opportunities) for us."

While his versatility is key on the soccer field, Taddeo appreciates Campos for his booming kickoffs and his ability to drown out distractions on field-goal and extra-point attempts.

One of those pressure-packed moments occurred during Campos' sophomore year. He was called on to attempt a kick against Ellwood City a day after losing a tough battle on the soccer field. Before the snap, the Wolverines called a timeout to freeze him, so Taddeo quickly went over to check on his young kicker.

"He said, 'Why are you talking to me? I'm going to make this kick,'" Taddeo recalls. "He goes about it like nothing is a big deal. He's got everything together."

Campos made the kick and has continued to make big plays ever since. In Center's first-round playoff game against Seton-La Salle last fall, he drilled a 44-yarder to help the Trojans grab a 31-10 victory.

"When you describe the kid, he has ice water going through his veins," Taddeo says. "He has had missed extra points or field goals. He just runs off the field. It's probably a moment, then he's back to being Luca Campos."

His success with the football team is no surprise to Perry, who has long been impressed by Campos' athleticism.

"I thought it was a pretty good bet he could be a kicker," Perry says. "But I knew soccer was going to have to be his sport."

The desire to kick for the football team came after Campos tried out some kicking drills with his father, Stephen, a former head football coach at Bethany College.

"He wanted me to kick," Campos says. "I used to go to his camp and kick into the nets. He said I looked like a decent kicker and I should try and see what I could do."

After debuting with the soccer team as a freshman, Campos broke in with the football squad as a sophomore.

"My first kick for football -- it was the scariest thing," Campos says.

It was definitely different than soccer. Suddenly there was a chance he could take a bone-rattling hit from a player twice his size. Or even worse, he might have to make a tackle.

Late in his sophomore season, a returner broke through Center's kick coverage, leaving a wide-eyed Campos alone to defend the end zone.

Things did not end well.

"I knew I had to do something, but he ran past me," Campos says.

He quickly erased that memory and moved forward to emerge as one of the state's top athletes. He has yet to make a decision on college but is being recruited by Division I soccer programs.

Due to his success in both sports, the question has to be asked: What happens if there are ever soccer and football games scheduled on the same day?

It has yet to happen -- Taddeo and Perry have athletic director James Vendemia to thank for that -- but Campos knows which field he would take.

"I'd play soccer," he says.

At least Perry doesn't have to worry about that.

David Auguste writes about high school sports for ESPN RISE Magazine.