Football Preview 2017: Warren County’s Ashley making most of kicking prowess

Warren County's Stuart Ashley, center, returns as the team's top kicker. Rich Cooley/Daily

FRONT ROYAL — Stuart Ashley was encouraged by Warren County coaches to give kicking a try when he was in eighth grade. Four years later, Ashley may be on his way to a scholarship at the collegiate level.

The Warren County senior had always played soccer, but now it’s American football that has become his first love.

“I tried it out and I wasn’t too bad,” Ashley said of his first year of football. “But I just kind of wanted to pursue it, because I thought it was my strong suit. And I could help out the team in winning.”

Ashley started at kicker as a freshman for Warren County, and said he was the only freshman on the team that season.

He said the other players treated him well that season and he learned a lot.

Ashley said the highlight of his freshman season was doing his first on-side kick, which was recovered by the Wildcats. He said he had never tried it before learned how to do it on his own.

“I just kind of figured it out myself,” Ashley said. “I just figured out a way to do it.”

Ashley said another highlight of his kicking career came last year when he hit a game-tying field goal in the final seconds of regulation against Madison County.

It was one of an area-best six field goals by Ashley last year.

Ashley said he’s worked hard in the offseason to improve, including going to a few kicking camps. He said he went to one at Liberty University and also one at Daytona Beach, Florida.

“They teach me the little things that I don’t already know, which is what I need to work on — just the little things now,” Ashley said. “All the little steps, like how I have my foot and how far my leg goes back and how my body is positioned.”

He said this summer in the kicking camps he was hitting from 55 yards, and making 80 percent of his kicks from 50 yards.

Ashley said he also trains in Charlottesville with kicking coach Jimmy Howell, a former punter at the University of Virginia.

Ashley said he’s being looked at by some colleges, and he hopes to get a scholarship to kick in college. However, Ashley said academics are important and he’ll only go to a school where he feels he can get a good education.

First-year Warren County head coach Brian Bush said as soon as he watched film on Ashley he became excited to have him.

“He’s got a great leg and he works hard at it,” Bush said. “Not only is he a great football player and a great kicker, but just the stuff he does on the outside — he’s involved in Young Life and volunteering — and his grades are great. You couldn’t ask for anything more from a student athlete.”

One of the things that Bush loves most about Ashley is his ability to kick the ball into the end zone on kickoffs.

“It is huge,” Bush said. “We’re going to practice our kickoff team. And we’re going to stay in our lanes. And we’re going to make sure we work hard at our kickoff team, but if Stuart or our kicker can put it into the end zone every time the other team gets it at the 20-yard line. And we’re able to get our defense out there. And they have to drive 80 yards instead of allowing them to have an extra play to get further to switch the game field.”

Ashley said that he’s improved a lot on kickoffs due to working out in the weight room and getting stronger. He said he also wants to improve his punting this season.

Ashley said he feels like the Wildcats will be better this season. Ashley said he looks forward to the challenge of hitting another big field goal late in the game if the team needs it.

He said that is his favorite part about kicking.

“I really like the pressure,” Ashley said. “And the fact that you can score those little points, but it makes a big difference at the end of the game.”