Kicker Nick Tankersley gives Manatee Hurricanes leg up on foes

BRADENTON -- If it’s Nick Tankersley you are looking to meet, just look to the ground at everyone’s feet.

The Manatee kicker’s cleats are yellow and red, as if mustard and ketchup waged a war and Tankersley walked right into it.

“I wanted to buy the most extravagant thing, just to make a statement,” he said. “It’s kind of worked out after that, and it’s become my little tradition.”

Lately, Tankersley has made his biggest statement with his kicking. His traditions have become making field goals, burying kickoffs in the end zone and neutralizing an opponent’s punt-return unit.

The senior enters Friday’s Class 7A-Region 3 final against Fort Pierce Central having scored 95 points and booted 14 field goals. Of his 94 kickoffs, 54 have gone into the end zone, and Tankersley is averaging 36.3 yards per punt.

Yet given the way his season started, Tankersley never could have imagined numbers like these. He was 1-for-5 in field-goal attempts during Manatee’s double-overtime, season-opening loss to Our Lady of Good Counsel in Olney, Md.

Though two of those misses came from more than 50 yards (51 and 53), and the 28-yarder he made with three seconds left in the fourth quarter sent the game to overtime, Tankersley was aware that changes had to be made.

“I came in really cocky. ... I’ll be the first one to admit that,” he said. “We put in so much work after that game, and it paid off a lot. I came out there with the attitude where I thought, ‘This is going to be handed to me.’ It was a really eye-opening thing.”

Tankersley made adjustments both physical and mental. Rather than just attempting hundreds of kicks during practice, Tankersley takes part in more refined drills. And instead spending his pre-game routine listening to hardcore rap or bone-shaking heavy metal, Tankersley has turned to a softer side.

The three songs he has to listen to before every game? Taylor Swift’s “Back To December” and “Love Story,” and James Taylor’s “Fire and Rain.”

“For kicking, you don’t want to really to be all jacked up. And I got myself all jacked up,” Tankersley said. “I just took the slowest songs and most depressing songs I could possibly think of to get me in this cool, calm and collective mood. And it’s worked.”

Tankersley made 12 straight field goals following the Good Counsel game, including a program-record 53-yarder against Sarasota and a 35-yarder against Palmetto that was the game-winner. And during Manatee’s win over rival Southeast, Tankersley sent all nine of his kickoffs into the end zone.

Manatee’s opponents have totaled just 19 punt-return yards this season, thanks in part to Tankersley.

“They’re starting on the 20 a majority of the time, and that’s big,” said Manatee coach Joe Kinnan. “When they’ve got to go 80 yards, it’s not going to be that easy.”

Tankersley is hoping to land a college scholarship, and though he hasn’t received any offers, Tankersley said Auburn stopped by practice to see him earlier this week and Florida State wants him as a preferred walk-on.

But there will be time for that. On Friday, Tankersley and his memorable shoes will try and boot the Canes to another regional title. It’s not a bad place to be, especially considering how he started.

“After the (Good Counsel) game, I was so depressed,” Tankersley said. “It really hit me that I’ve got to be out here working harder than everyone else out there, I’ve got to be doing my drills. ... Yeah, I’m the kicker, and I don’t have the hardest practice in the world. But I’ve got to make the most of it.”