By MATT KOESTERS
FLOYD COUNTY —
On Sunday, Lucas Oil Stadium will be the setting for a competition with serious postseason implications. Oh, and the Colts will play the Titans, too.
The team championship round of the NFL’s Punt, Pass & Kick competition will be held Sunday, and Highland Hills Middle School seventh-grader Renee Sisloff hopes she’s got what it takes to advance to the national finals.
“I’m really excited, but I’m still just a little nervous about the competition that’s going to be there, because these other girls are really good, based on what I’ve heard,” said Sisloff, 13, Floyds Knobs. “I’ve really got to step up my game.”
The NFL Punt, Pass & Kick program is a national skills competition for boys and girls between ages 6 and 15 to compete separately against their peers, according to the competition’s website. Established in 1961, the PPK program is the oldest NFL youth football program.
Sisloff will compete against other girls in the 12-13 age group Sunday. The girl with the longest combined score will win the age group and the team championship. Win or lose, the competitors will get to stay for the Colts-Titans game.
The first-place finishers at Lucas Oil on Sunday will have their scores submitted to the NFL. Once all 32 teams have completed their team championships, the scores will be ranked and the top four finishers nationwide in each of five age groups for each gender will receive a trip to the national finals, which will take place at an NFC playoff game in January.
Sisloff, who plays competitive travel soccer as a goalie for SIU Net-Surfers, got her start in the competition by shining at a local competition held in September by Clarksville Parks & Recreation, besting a field of 24 other competitors. Her punt went 38 feet, 7 inches; her pass went 41 feet, 3 inches; and her kick flew 90 feet, 6 inches.
She did even better at the sectional competition in Princeton, Ind.
“She’s progressed a lot,” said Neil Sisloff, Renee’s father. “It’s kind of a neat learning experience, like anything.”
Renee hasn’t done it on her own. In addition to working with her dad before and after school, she’s had the tutelage of neighbor J.R. Drummond, who used to punt for Indiana University’s football team. Drummond’s expertise has been helpful in more than one way, Neil Sisloff said.
“Obviously, a 13-year-old daughter’s not going to listen to her dad that much, either,” Neil Sisloff said. “It’s worked out well in two ways.”
Renee had hoped that her soccer skills would translate immediately to the gridiron, but it’s been a bit of an adjustment, she said.
“Kicking a football, you have to find a certain spot on the football to hit it, or else you’ll hit the tee or you’ll just totally miss the ball,” Renee said. “A soccer ball, it’s round, so it really doesn’t matter that much where it hit it. It’s just the direction you punt it in.”
In addition to learning how to kick the ball differently, Renee had to add a completely new skill to her repertoire: throwing a football. Renee describes herself as “not a big thrower,” but she added nearly seven feet to her score in the event at the Princeton sectional competition. Renee will have plenty of folks there to cheer her on this Sunday.
“We were very excited that one of our local kids made it so far in the competition,” said Ken Conklin, marketing and programming coordinator with Clarksville Parks & Recreation. “We can’t wait to see how well she does this Sunday at Lucas Oil Stadium. You can bet I will be there to cheer her on.”
Regardless of the outcome at Lucas Oil this Sunday, Renee said she plans to compete again next year.
“Win or lose, it was really fun doing it and I’ve learned a lot,” she said.