By MARK MAYNARD / Prokickernews.com
TAMPA, Fla. – Liran “Kozo” Zamir was searching the Internet for kicking equipment when Google revealed something much better.
Hello, Prokicker.com and hello, USA.
Zamir, the 20-year-old placekicker for the Israel National Team who has designs on playing college football in America, read about the top kicking instruction organization in the United States and immediately signed up for three Prokicker.com camps in Tampa, Charlotte, N.C. and Summerville, S.C., during the month of May.
“It was the first thing that popped up on Google,” Zamir said of Prokicker.com. “I looked on the website and saw the placekicking camps.”
Rick Sang, the founder and director of Prokicker.com, said Zamir had several telephone conversations with the Prokicker.com office in Ashland, Ky.
“He called and kept calling,” Sang said. “He must have called Jana (Sang’s wife who runs the Prokicker.com office) five or six times.”
They finally signed him up for the three camps in a row and private lessons with Ruffin.
“He told me nobody taught him anything about kicking (in Israel),” Sang said. “He’s trying to learn and wanting to get some expert instruction. He’s got some good skills. He’s solid. But it’s an uphill road for him because he’s just now learning the fundamentals.”
Zamir, who is making his first trip to the United States, has found immediate success with the Prokicker.com instructors who took him through two days of drills at Manatee High School last weekend in Bradenton, Fla. He also signed up for two 30-minute private lessons from former All-American kicker Jonathan Ruffin, a Prokicker.com instructor as well.
“I learned so much in two days,” Zamir said. “There’s so much I need to remember. I taught myself how to kick. I came up through soccer but the technique is a bit different.”
Ruffin came away from his hour of private lessons highly impressed with the Israeli kicker, who holds several Israel Football League records. Last year, while playing for the Judean Rebels, he was named the IFL Special Teams Player of the Year.
“I think he’s very motivated and dedicated,” Ruffin said. “He’s very focused but he gets it. He picked up a ton in the short time we were together. He’s about as focused as anybody I’ve ever met. He wants it really bad.”
Zamir has the pure leg strength but is still raw when it comes to proper kicking technique, Ruffin said.
But the upside comes from Zamir’s work ethic that iss unequaled by many. “He’d kick until his leg fell off,” Ruffin said.
Zamir came to the camp with high expectations and left thrilled with what he learned in such a short time.
“It was much better than I thought it would be … 100 percent better,” he said. “Football is very big here. We’re only in our eighth year of American football. Not so many people know the game. Here it’s the biggest sport there is. We have a few (American) coaches but no one specialized in special teams and kicking.”
That’s where Prokicker.com has stepped in for Zamir, who began playing football after serving a mandatory two years in the Israel Army after turning 18. He grew up playing soccer.
“I wanted to work on kicking, the technique and the mental work,” he said. “I know to do a lot of that on my own.”
Zamir has been the IFL’s Special Teams Player of the Year twice and is considered the No. 1 kicker in the league.
“I’m the best kicker in Israel but I want to be better than that,” he said. “They (Prokicker instructors) gave me a lot of drills to go over and over and over. I’ll do whatever it takes.”
Zamir isn’t expecting to become an overnight sensation but he is in the process of going through the NCAA Clearinghouse to be eligible for college sports here. He has taken the ACT and is in the works for getting cleared to play.
“He’s down here for a month to pick up as much information as he can,” Ruffin said. “Athletically, he can sit there and make field goals. He needs to work on technique and height on the ball. He can maximize his power a little more.
“There’s more to kicking than just making kicks. You have to kick it high enough, be more consistent, be quicker to the ball. He learned all those things and improved greatly in two days. Athletically, he’s good enough to play in college.”
The Judean Rebels are a playoff regular in the IFL since the league began in 2007. In 2011, they won the Israel Bowl to become the national champions and were led by quarterback Alex Swieca, who is now a sophomore walk-on for the Michigan Wolverines. The Rebels reached the Israel Bowl finals again in 2013.
Zamir said he is enjoying his first trip to the U.S., calling it “refreshing, people are nice. I love America.”
He said most Israelis have a good feeling about America and the relationship with the country.
“Without America, there wouldn’t be any Israel,” he said. “We appreciate the cooperation.”