MARSHALL - A reliable kicker can be the difference between being a Super Bowl Champion (Adam Vinatieri and the New England Patriots in 2002) or a Super Bowl loser (Scott Norwood and the Buffalo Bills in 1991). A reliable kicker can be the difference between upsetting a top-ranked opponent (Dan Nystrom and the University of Minnesota over No. 2 Penn State in 1999) or being upset (Boise State vs. Nevada in 2010 or TCU in 2011).
And, especially at the high school level, where consistent kickers are about as common as wild tigers, a reliable kicker can mean the difference between playing for a state championship and ending your season before Halloween.
Fortunately for the ninth-ranked Marshall Tigers, they have found a reliable kicker in senior Tanner Cirks.
Independent file photo
Marshall senior Tanner Cirks kicks off to Mankato East following a Tiger touchdown in his team’s season opener against the Cougars. Cirks connected on field goals of 32 and 42 yards in last week’s 40-14 win over Fairmont (then ranked No. 2 in Class AAA). Also a split end on offense, Cirks led the Tigers’ receiving corps last Friday with four catches for 68 yards.
For the Tigers, Cirks' reliability provides the team with another avenue for accumulating points.
"It just gives you some options," Marshall head coach Terry Bahlmann said. "If the drive stalls, we know we can get three out of that. (Tanner)'s got a calm personality. He's solid from 40 (yards) on in and last week he hammered one from 42. He had a lot left with that one, so we might be able to get a little longer one."
Through two games in 2012, Cirks is a perfect 10-for-10 on PATs and 2-for-2 on field goal tries. Both three-pointers came against Fairmont last Friday and were from distances of 32 and 42 yards. But his path to gridiron was circuitous, including an extended stay on the soccer pitch.
"I just wanted to try something new," Cirks said of his decision to trade in his boots for cleats. "Coach Bahlmann always pushed for it, but he does that with everybody."
Cirks made the transition during his sophomore year and saw the field in a hurry. Following an injury to Independent All-Area kicker Cameron Thompson in 2010, Cirks was thrust into a pivotal role for the Tigers.
"That was my first year kicking field goals and kickoffs and everything else. It was kind of more intimidating. That was my first year in football," Cirks said.
Despite his prowess as a place kicker, Cirks' best position might be one of the other two he plays for the Tigers.
On offense Cirks plays as a split end, but often lines up as tight end to give the Tigers extra dimensions in both their running and passing games.
"He gives us some speed there and at 6-foot-3, 215, he's a tough match up for any corner out there," Bahlmann said.
With the graduation of 2011's leading receiver, Mason Schnaible, Cirks has emerged as the primary target for quarterback Austin Saugstad. His six receptions, 120 yards and two touchdowns through two games are all team highs.
Cirks also starts at defensive end, where his height, weight, speed and long arms give him prototypical size for Marshall's 5-2 defensive schemes.
"He's grown as a football player leaps and bounds, and he's still learning. He's got a bright future and he just keeps getting better all the time," Bahlmann said.
The Tigers (2-0) will need Cirks to be in the midst of all three phases when they begin their Southwest Conference schedule on Friday in what Coach Bahlmann has deemed a trap game against the winless Redwood Valley Cardinals.
"We're 2-0 coming off a big win against a ranked team. They played Luverne close last week, but they're 0-2. We just gotta prepare each week. We can't afford to stumble to be in the conference race," Bahlmann said.
"If the guys up front control the line of scrimmage, offensively, just about everything we want to run will work."