By Ronn Rowland
Phoenix Sports Writer
Call it luck of the draw but heading into his third season as coach of the Fort Gibson Tigers football team, James Singleton will take it.
It was nine years ago that Daniel Mielnik, the Tigers’ kicker and punter, came to the United States from Kunów, Poland, approximately 100 miles (150 km) northeast of Krakow, with his family and it was a contest that brought them here.
“We entered a drawing for visas,” Mielnik said. “We got chosen out of about 300,000 people. “
Singleton is glad that the Mielniks are here and really happy that one of them is his kicker.
“He’s very, very accurate,” Singleton said. “But one thing this year is his leg has gotten stronger. We feel like he’ll be able to put it in the end zone in all of our kickoffs and that’s a weapon itself starting them on the 20-yard line all the time.”
Mielnik is also the goalkeeper on the boys soccer team and made a decision at the end of the soccer season last May. The senior told Singleton he was skipping his final year of football so he could focus on club soccer, which conflicts with the football schedule.
“Honestly, I did tell him I was going to focus on soccer,” Mielnik said. “But after I thought about it and thought it over, I figured I just had one more year left and I had played football all this time, it would be pointless quitting now. I might have a shot at college football so I’m going to give any opportunity I can get.”
Looking back on his decision, Mielnik knows he just needed a break. Now that he’s made the decision to stick with both sports, Mielnik can build off of last season when he was 40 of 41 on point after attempts and punted 15 times for a total of 391 yards, his longest being 47 yards.
“I was born in Poland and have played soccer all my life and was just used to that,” he said. “I started playing football in the sixth grade, starting kicking. It did burn me out a little bit, but after I thought about it, it wasn’t worth quitting and losing the enjoyment I was having.”
While there were cultural differences that Mielnik had to endure, there were differences when it came to kicking between the two sports.
“I can kick a soccer ball as far as I want to,” Mielnik said. “At first I didn’t start punting for the football team because I was completely terrible at it. It was really hard for me to punt an oval object that’s shaped like an egg but I got used to it but I’m not as good as with a soccer ball.”
But Mielnik has also come to realize that there are some benefits he’s received from football.
“It has helped me kick a soccer ball better,” he said. “I was not able to get the ball off the ground as much. But learning the placement of my foot and how to strike the football has helped me both ways.”
And Singleton has devised a strategy to help his kicker push the opposition further back on punts, which he can put into practice when the Tigers go to Tahlequah for the 7:30 p.m. Friday season opener.
“We kind of roll him out to get him away from the coverage,” Singleton said. “We’ve even developed blocking packages to give him extra protection.”
There is a stereotype that kickers are on an island of their own and walk to the beat of a different drummer. Mielnik states that, in his case, some of that is self-imposed.
“During the game, I just like to be in my own little world,” Mielnik said. “I just want to focus on the game and don’t want any outside interferences. In the locker room, we’re all cool and all friends.”