Rocket-footed Niners kicker undeterred by rule change

Let’s see … the Fort Pierce Fire to the St. Lucie Bobcats to the Arizona Rattlers to the Sacramento Mountain Lions to the San Francisco 49ers practice squad.

After the one-of-a-kind road he’s traveled to the NFL’s fringes, what’s another five yards to rocket-footed kicker Fabrizio Scaccia?

This week’s vote by the NFL owners to move kickoffs to the 35-yard line (from the 30-yard line) will obviously impact big-name returners such as the Chicago’s Devin Hester and Cleveland’s Josh Cribbs, who will have fewer chances to return kicks.

But what about the flip side – the impact on a largely anonymous NFL hopeful such as Scaccia, 26, whose unique ability to blast kickoffs into the end zone just became a little less unique? It’s possible the rule change will decrease Scaccia’s chances of latching on with the Niners, or another team, strictly as a kickoff specialist.

Of course, Scaccia, who never attended college, knows something about beating the odds. Not surprisingly, he’s a glass-is-half-full type who notes NFL teams could find value in a kicker who could almost guarantee touchbacks.

“I was definitely fine with it being on the (30-yard-line),” Scaccia said with a laugh this morning. “But it could be an advantage (for me). We’ll see. I think from the 35 I could consistently get it deep into the end zone, if not out of the end zone.”

In 2009, Scaccia nailed a 68-yard field goal while playing with the semi-pro St. Lucie Bobcats. His 68-yarder, believed to be the second-longest in organized football history, earned him mention in Sports Illustrated and, he says, a scholarship offer from Ohio State, which ultimately couldn’t be accepted due to eligibility issues from playing semi-pro football. He had a full-ride scholarship from South Carolina out of high school, but couldn’t accept that offer either. His mom was in a serious car accident and he stayed home in Port St. Lucie, Fla., to care for her.

Last year with the Sacramento Mountain Lions, Scaccia nailed a 54-yarder, a UFL record. He was signed to the Niners practice squad on Dec. 21 and was re-signed to a future contract on Jan. 5.

The role of kickoff specialist seems like a possibility for Scaccia in San Francisco although new special teams coordinator Brad Seely has never had one during his 22-year NFL career.

Niners placekicker Joe Nedney, who turned 38 this week, had four touchbacks on 37 kickoffs last year. Nedney missed the final seven games with a knee injury, which he sustained while kicking off against the Rams on Nov. 14.

Kicking guru Gary Zauner, a special teams coach for 13 years with the Vikings, Ravens and Cardinals, believes the NFL’s rule change could be a blessing for veteran kickers such as Nedney.

“I think as a kicker gets older they all think their career is coming to an end because they can’t kick off,” Zauner said. “Now I think all these guys are licking their chops and saying this has now extended their career.”

Zauner is now a special-teams consultant based outside Phoenix and one of his pupils is Scaccia. The pair began working together 14 months ago and Zauner estimates they have since had 35 two-hour kicking sessions. Scaccia, who lives in Port St. Lucie, arrived in Arizona this week for two weeks of work with Zauner, who has had also Niners kicker Jeff Reed, a free-agent-to-be, visit him this week.

Zauner is a believer in Scaccia’s ability to find a full-time NFL kicking job and was instrumental in Scaccia landing with Sacramento in the UFL (Mountain Lions coach Dennis Green was Zauner’s boss with the Vikings).

Zauner says Scaccia has an ideal even-keeled temperament for an NFL kicker and compares his leg strength to Oakland’s Sebastian Janikowski and Jacksonville’s Josh Scobee, both former clients. The final step, Zauner says, is to improve his consistency. Scaccia made 12 of 16 field goals with Sacramento.

“Fabrizio is now kicking the ball better than I’ve ever seen him,” Zauner said. “He’s improved his technique, which has improved his consistency.”

For his part, Scaccia is ready to take the final step is his one-of-a-kind journey and make an NFL active roster. His dream is so close. No wonder he doesn’t think five yards will stop him.

“I still can’t believe it,” he said. “All my friends and family will tell me ‘Think about where you’re at’ and it’s still overwhelming to me. But I’m ready to go and I’m going to do my best. If it’s not good enough (in San Francisco) hopefully it will be good enough somewhere else.”

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