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Small to compete for PP&K title at Georgia Dome

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Jay Small, 14, of Hinton will compete in the NFL Punt, Pass & Kick National Finals in Atlanta, Ga., this weekend.
HINTON -- A Hinton teen is among the top competitors in the nation in the NFL's Punt, Pass & Kick program.

And Jay Small, 14, will be flying to Atlanta, Ga., this weekend to vie for the national title among boys in his age group at the NFL Punt, Pass & Kick National Finals.

This is Jay's second time making it to the national level. In 2009-10, as an 11 year old, he advanced to the PPK National Finals at San Diego's Qualcomm Stadium and he placed second in the nation.

Jay's parents, Joel and Sandy will also be flying out to watch their son on the field of the Georgia Dome.

In NFL Punt, Pass & Kick competitions (PP&K) contestants each make one punt, one pass and one kickoff with a football, aiming for the longest distance.

The distances from the punt, pass and kick are added together and used to help figure a score for each contestant, with some distance subtracted for not keeping the ball straight ahead.

"You have to be accurate. You have to throw it straight down the line as much as you can, and you have to get some good distance," Jay's father Joel explained.

To qualify for nationals, Jay first had to compete at the local level in the early fall at Sergeant Bluff.

He won that event and qualified for the regional competition, which was held at Onawa.

"He did really well at Onawa, the best he's ever done at PP&K," Joel said.

With that win, Jay was in the running to be selected for the next level, the Team Championship, for which only the top four kids from the four-state area qualify.

Jay's PP&K score from the regional event qualified him to compete at the Vikings Team Championship in Minneapolis, Minn., which was held the day before the Minnesota Vikings vs. Chicago Bears NFL game Dec. 8 at the Mall of America Field.

Jay won that Team Championship competition.

"He was 8-10 feet behind another boy going into the kickoff competition, and Jay was the first competitor," Joel said. "Jay had a solid kickoff, and the last three competitors didn't do really well, so Jay ended up winning by 30 feet."

This was Jay's third Team Championship title in four years.

His finish put him in the running to be selected for the National Finals.

Only the top four contestants for boys and girls in each age group advances to finals.

There are five different age groups: 6-7, 8-9, 10-11, 12-13 and 14-15. There will be four girls and four boys from each age group at National Finals.

Jay received notification in late December that his score qualified him as one of the top four 14-15 year olds and that he had a spot in the finals in Georgia.

Joel said it's a little unusual that Jay qualified for nationals as a 14 year old.

"Usually, the older kids seem to do better and qualify," Joel said. "But he made it as a 14 year old, so we're going to take it."

Small and the other four National Finals qualifiers in his age group all scored within 15 feet of each other at the Team Championship level, Joel said.

The Hinton teen's qualifying distance puts him in third place among those four, but at the National Finals each contestant will have a chance to take first place.

"Anybody can really win it if they have their best day," Joel said.

Jay will may have a slight advantage over some competitors since this will be his second time competing at the national level.

"Hopefully I won't be so nervous," Jay said. "It's usually pretty close. Everybody's in the same region -- neck-and-neck."

Jay began competing in PP&K when he was around 9 years old.

Before that, he started with a similar competition put on by the Sioux City Rec Department.

"It was the first time he ever did anything like that, and he ended up going to the state championship at Iowa State University," Joel said. "He won that a couple of times."

Joel credits his wife for finding the PP&K competition for Jay to try.

And he credits Jay for sticking with it.

"He enjoys it and he's pretty successful at it," Joel said, adding that Jay also enjoys being part of the local basketball, baseball and football teams in season. "He just loves all the sports he's involved in. He's really competitive and he loves playing."

Jay said he practices outside for the PP&K competition when it's warm enough, but if it's too cold out, he heads to the gym and kicks the ball against the wall.

His favorite segment of PP&K? The pass.

"I'm most consistent at the pass," he said.

For the NFL PP&K National Finals, Jay will likely compete on Saturday in Atlanta, with an on-field presentation prior to the NFC Atlanta Falcons vs. Seattle Seahawks game at noon Sunday.

Jay was part of a similar ceremony at the National Finals in San Diego in 2009-10, prior to a game between the Jets and the Chargers.

How does it feel stepping onto an NFL field in front of thousands of fans? Pretty awesome, Jay said.

His dad said the family is looking forward to the weekend in Atlanta.

"It should be a good competition," Joel said. "It will be a great experience for our family and for Jay. We're all proud of him. We're going to down and compete, and we're going to go down and enjoy the moment as a family, too."

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