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Staff photo by Patrick MacCoon / East Hamilton senior Alen Karajic has impressed on special teams in his lone high school fooball season.
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East Hamilton's Alen Karajic goes from soccer player to future Division I football kicker

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Challenged by his soccer coach to give football a try, Alen Karajic became intrigued by a sport that would become an avenue for his future.

Standing 6-foot-3, with powerful legs, Karajic figured his senior year of high school at East Hamilton would be a great time to try something new.

Karajic watched YouTube videos of Pat McAfee and NFL All-Pro Justin Tucker, and before too long he was working alongside a former Tennessee Volunteers standout.

"Since February I have practiced kicking every single day and really enjoyed it," Karajic said. "This summer I started training with James Wilhoit. He has taught me a lot about the technical side of kicking and really helped me push to get to the next level."

Wilhoit's 50-yard game-winning field goal against Florida in 2004 is for many the most memorable kick in Tennessee history.

Now Wilhoit works with kickers and punters across the Southeast, and those have included six All-Americans, nine who have gone to play in the Southeastern Conference and the last six TSSAA Mr. Football winners.

"Alen's length on field goals and kickoffs is phenomenal," Wilhoit said. "He might have the biggest upside of anyone I have ever coached. He's got that much potential. He is massive for a kicker. His frame and legs give him the ability to kick the ball farther than anyone in the state."

Karajic committed to Jacksonville State University on Tuesday. The first-year kicker could not pass up a chance to play Division I football.

He has become notorious for booting kickoffs out of the back of the end zone, even sending one through the uprights against East Ridge. He has also made numerous 60-yard field goals in practice.

In games Karajic is 6-of-10 on field-goal attempts with a long of 46, and he is 45-of-49 on extra points and averages 37 yards per punt.

"Alen has a really good work ethic and works on his craft every day," East Hamilton coach Grant Reynolds said. "He wants to get better and learn the game. He is a big weapon for us. We trust him, and he has proven he can make the big kicks."

Developing mental toughness has been key for Karajic, who admits he has much more to learn and improve on.

With the Hurricanes (6-3) seeking home-field advantage for the playoffs, they will have to beat Howard (7-2) on the road in a Region 2-4A battle tonight.

"I try to zone everything out except for the ball," said Karajic, whose parents moved from war-ridden Bosnia to America before he was born. "You have to have a short memory, too, as a kicker. If you miss one, don't think about it and go on to the next kick. I just want to help my team put points on the board and ultimately win."

From showing promise as a striker on the soccer field, Karajic's big leg has his future soaring through the uprights.

Contact Patrick MacCoon at pmaccoon@timesfreepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @PMacCoon.

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