By Nate Thompson
NORTH MUSKEGON – When he was in seventh grade, North Muskegon’s Gabe Rahrig was faced with a decision.
“I had been playing soccer since I was three, but I wasn’t sure if I wanted to keep playing it as I got older,” he said. “Then when I was seventh grade, I was still unsure what I wanted to do, so my mom said, ‘You know, your brother plays football, why don’t you give it a shot?’”
As they say, mom knows best.
Rahrig, a 6-foot, 4-inch, 180-pound senior, has developed into one of the area’s top high school placekickers, with a strong enough leg to nail a 50-yard field goal, if everything goes right. He hit a 48-yarder as a sophomore on junior varsity, so he’s already come close.
“I got the distance, but sometimes my aim is a challenge, especially with the weather,” he said. “The wind can make it tough.”
Rahrig will be almost a sure thing on extra points, and a good bet on field goals for the Norsemen during the abbreviated 2020 season. They open on Friday against West Michigan Conference foe Shelby.
If his performance last year is any indication, Rahrig should be very good. He hit three of four field goal attempts, with the longest coming from 39 yards out. He was 37-for-37 on extra point attempts, and put five kickoffs into the end zone for touchbacks.
While Rahrig’s leg gives the Norse a valuable weapon that many high school teams lack, he’s far more than just a kicker. The big kid will also be a starting defensive end, and is expected to see time as a pulling guard on the team’s offensive line.
“He’ll handle all the kickoffs and the PATs, and any time we get inside the 30 and a drive stalls, we’ll turn to him,” said North Muskegon coach Larry Witham. “But he’ll also be a two-way player for us. He’s an athletic specimen. He’s 6-4 and I believe he has over a 35-inch vertical (jump).”
Rahrig is confident that his right leg will give him an opportunity to play football at the college level. He said he’s gained interest from a handful of schools by impressing scouts at various Next College Student Athlete kicking camps. He would have done the same this summer, but the camps were wiped out across the Midwest due to the COVID-19 virus.
One strength Rahrig has going for him is his calm demeanor, which is perfect for stressful situations that kickers often face. The pressure is always on, but it doesn’t get to him.
“He’s a ‘Steady Eddie,’ Witham said. “He’s just one of those types of kids that shows no emotion. Nothing rattles the kid. He doesn’t get too high or too low.”
Witham said North Muskegon has been fortunate to have a handful of talented kickers over the past 4-5 years, but most of them, like All-Staters Justice Sikkema and Dylan Hoffman, were primarily soccer players who came over to help the football team.
Rahrig is only about football.
Witham said he wishes he would have utilized Rahrig’s talent more often last season, but didn’t want to put too much pressure on a junior kicker. That will definitely change this season, and he’s up for the challenge.
“On JV I kicked a 45-yarder during the last game of the season, and then I was bumped up (to varsity) for the playoffs,” Rahrig said.
The Norse lost a lot of talented seniors from a squad that snuck into the Division 7 playoffs last season with a 5-4 record. One was Noel Rahrig, an offensive lineman and Gabe’s older brother.
“It was pretty fun being by him and just getting to learn from the older players,” Rahrig said. “We lost (last year’s starting quarterback) John Hayhurst, but our pass game has been pretty good in practice. And our running back, Collin Schotts, has been running pretty good. He’s also a really good receiver.”
Rahrig said several of his teammates were “pretty upset” when they were informed in August that the season would be postponed until spring. That dejected feeling turned to jubilation when that decision was reversed in early September, with a six-game season implemented and the playoff field opened up to every team.
“We’ve been working out a little bit, just trying to keep everything fresh,” Rahrig said. “We’re ready to go now.”