Mahlmeister gets ‘kick start’ from ex-Ohio State players
This kicking story has a real kicker to it.
Back in the spring, St. Joseph Flyers’ senior Jimmy Mahlmeister was just doing school work and trying to find a way to pass the time during the COVID-19 shutdown.
It was along that time frame that Ironton senior players Trent Hacker and Cameron Deere approached Mahlmeister about kicking for the Fighting Tigers.
Although he was apprehensive at first, he decided to give it a try and began kicking field goals as long as 45 yards.
Mahlmeister’s maternal grandfather is John Mullins who operates Mullins Construction Company and built the Parish Life Center for the Ironton Catholic churches.
Mullins had worked together with for Ironton and Ohio State standout Ken Fritz for years. Fritz is Mullins insurance agent and when grandfather told Fritz his grandson was going to try to kick for Ironton this season, Frtiz erupted.
“I’m an Ironton guy. I’m all about Ironton. I can get you someone to help your grandson learn how to kick,” said Fritz.
And get them he did.
Fritz pulled out the first string as he called upon former Ohio State teammate Vlade Janakievski who in turn invoked the help of another Ohio State kicker Drew Basil.
Janakievski began his career as a soccer player for Ohio State and was then recruited to kick of the Buckeyes’ football team where he became the program’s first two-time All-Big Ten performer.
The story began to unfold in March when Ironton Fighting Tigers’ senior players Trent Hacker and Kyle Howell approached Mahlmeister about filling the placekicking void caused by the graduation of All-Ohio kicker Avery Book.
“A couple of guys on the football team were looking for a new kicker and they came and asked me if I would do it. My dad and I talked about it and he asked if I really wanted to do it. I said, ‘Why not? I’ll give it a shot,’ and we went and kicked some and the rest is history,” said Mahlmeister.
Other St. Joseph soccer players Tre Neal, Iszak Unger and Michael Mahlmeister have kicked for Ironton in previous seasons, so Mahlmeister checked with them about their thoughts.
“I talked to them because I was a little skeptical at first. I talked to a few (Ironton players) and asked if I would even fit in and if it would be a good fit for me. They said they’d love to have me. I’ve been going to a couple of practices and it’s been going well,” said Mahlmeister.
The next step was to substitute a football for a soccer ball and start kicking. As the goalkeeper, Mahlmeister doesn’t do a lot of kicking in a game.
“Kicking a football and a soccer ball are two totally different things. But, being a goalkeeper, I can kind of relate it to kicking a goal kick. You want to get under the ball and you want to do the same thing with a football. You want to get under the ball and get it up in the air,” said Mahlmeister.
The first time he attempted to kick a football, Mahlmeister admits it was okay but he was far from being able to do the job at the necessary level.
“Having a soccer background helps a lot. The first time wasn’t too bad but it wasn’t anything great. Over the past four or five months, it’s gotten tremendously better,” said Mahlmeister.
The next step came on Wednesday when Mahlmeister got his teaching lesson in the Columbus area at Gahanna East Middle School.
“Whenever we got there, the first thing Vlade said was I need a smaller shoe. Every now and then I’d chunk one and get it way up in the air. The main thing was I pulled the ball to the left almost every time I missed. They told me to make sure I’m watching me make contact with the ball and treat it just like a golfer or baseball swing,” said Mahlmeister.
Basil arrived a few minutes late but quickly jumped in with some tips and instructions.
“Drew told me that whenever I’m kicking from a hash, I should pick an object through the uprights and focus on that spot,” said Mahlmeister. “He told me I can never look up at the ball. If I look up, I’m going to pull the ball. He said always keep your head down and look at one spot on the ball and watch yourself make contact with it.”
As the workout progressed, so did Mahlmeister. Both Janakievski and Basil told his father Jimmy Mahlmeister and fraternal grandfather Jim Mahlmeister that Jimmy “was a natural.”
Besides the workout was at Gahanna East Middle School, all of Mahlmeister’s workouts have been on the practice field at Tanks Memorial Stadium. He knows that when the Friday night scoreboard is turned on and the stands are filled with people, the atmosphere will change.
“I’m sure the first time I go out and kick, especially being against Wheelersburg which is my hometown, it’ll be a little nerve-racking, but once I get into the hang of things I’ll be good,” he said.
Besides soccer, Mahlmeister also golfs for the Flyers in the fall — he was All-Southern Ohio Conference last season in golf and soccer — and knows how the school stresses academics before athletics.
By adding football, Mahlmeister’s plate is not only full, but it’s starting to overflow.
“It won’t be easy, but going to St. Joe, everybody is expected to play everything with the little number of kids we have. The graduating class we just had was six and my class is going to have 13. It’s going to be difficult. I’m not going to say I’m used to it because it’ll be different,” said Mahlmeister who is also a three-year starter in basketball.
Although football and soccer are totally different, Mahlmeister sees a lot of similarities in the two programs.
“They went to the state championship last year and, obviously, they’re missing some big pieces. I think they can make another deep run and I hope I can be a part of that,” said Mahlmeister.
“The same thing with Ironton football, our soccer team made a deep tournament run last year and we’re losing two big pieces in Zac (Roach) and Ryan (Payne), but I still think we can make another deep run. We’re looking sharp in practice. If we continue that through the season, we can go deeper than people expect.”
Mahlmeister already has an offer on the table to play soccer at Maryville College in Tennessee. If he has great success in both sports and gets offers to play either football or soccer, Mahlmeister said it would be a tough decision.
“I’ve played soccer my entire life and I think I’d rather go the soccer route,” said Mahlmeister. “Yeah, Division I college football would be something, but I’ve just played soccer my entire life and I’ve just kind of fell in love with it. Once high school hit and I started being the goalkeeper, I think I’d take that route.”
Even though Mahlmeister said he’d take the soccer route, there is one escape clause in his decision. If a certain Notre Dame team came calling and offered both a soccer and football scholarship, he might change his mind.
“I would 110 percent take that offer,” said Mahlmeister. “I’d love to do that if it was Notre Dame or Ohio State or some big Division I.”
Now, ain’t that a kick.
Janakievski, Basil biographical stories
Vlade Janakievski was born in Yugoslavia and moved to the United States with his parents in 1967 at the age of 10. He played at Whitehall-Yearling High School in Columbus and then was a walk-on at Ohio State.
Standing 5-foot-8 and weighing 166 pounds, Janakievski won the Buckeyes’ placekicking job from 1977-80. His teammate was Ken Fritz who played and Ironton and it was Fritz who got Mahlmeister hooked up with Janakievski.
Janakievski finished with 179 points that currently ranks fifth on the Ohio State all-time scoring list. He was named to the Ohio State All-Century Team in 2000 and was inducted into the OSU Varsity O Hall of Fame in 2004.
He was the first Ohio State kicker to be chosen All-Big Ten twice.
Janakievski, now 63, currently lives in Gahanna and owns his own delicatessen named “Easy Living Deli” at 1355 West Lane Avenue which is only minutes for the Ohio State campus.
His deli provides meals for the players after home games.
Basil played soccer and kicked for the football team at Chillicothe High School. He played for Ohio State from 2010-13 and ranks eighth all-time in field goals made with 33 and had a field goal percentage of 78.6.
Basil, 28, signed a free agent contract with the Atlanta Falcons in 2014 and then kicked for the Montreal Alouettes in 2015 and the indoor Arena Football League Cleveland Gladiators in 2017.