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Ronnel kicks in another gear

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Photographs by Staton Breidenthal

Jason Ronnel was the kicker for Little Rock Central’s football team in 2016. He was the Tigers’ leading scorer with 10 field goals and 28 extra points. Also, Ronnel averaged 39.0 yards per punt with a long of 59. He plans to walk on as a kicker at Texas.

By his own admission, Jason Ronnel was not a great soccer player. He did, however, turn out to be pretty good with his feet.

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Little Rock Central’s Jason Ronnel, who will attend the University of Texas in Austin, scored a 32 on the ACT. He was the Tig... + Enlarge

After his junior year at Little Rock Central, Ronnel put all of his efforts into becoming the best kicker he could be for the Tigers football program.

JASON RONNEL

School; Little Rock Central

College;University of Texas, Austin

Sport;Football

College major;Business

GPA;3.94

Date of birth;Sept. 18, 1998

NOTEWORTHY; Son of Steve and Jennifer Ronnel. … Scored a 32 on the ACT. … Also recruited by Alabama, North Carolina and Arkansas. … Central High’s leading scorer with 10 field goals and 28 extra points. … Averaged 39.0 yards per punt with a long of 59. … Founder of the Tiger Trailblazers, a club that maintains hiking trails in central Arkansas. … Won election for mayor at Arkansas Boys State during his junior year. … Vice president of Temple B’Nai Israel Youth Group. … Member of the National Honor Society and National Society of High School Scholars.

"Soccer wasn't something I could really be the best at, but I felt I had the chance [to be great] if I put the time in with football," Ronnel said. "I put the work in during the offseason and I saw the results."

The results spoke loudly. Ronnel hit 10 of 11 field-goal attempts from 45 yards and in, including a 7 of 7 showing from kicks inside the 40. He was 28 of 29 on extra points, and 74 percent of his kickoffs went for touchbacks. None of his kicks were blocked.

Ronnel's classroom results were also impressive. The 5-10, 165-pounder was an honor graduate who earned admission to the McCombs Business School at the University of Texas, one of the top undergraduate programs in the country.

Steve Ronnel, Jason's father, owns Metro Scrap Metals. Jason also likes the idea of running a business.

"That's been an interest of mine for quite awhile," Ronnel said. "I've been watching my dad handle our family business. My coursework through middle and high school has narrowed my focus. I've always liked my social studies and English classes. I like getting out, talking to people, and I like to argue. It's just something I'm interested in, and I think it's something I'd be pretty good at."

Ronnel has been selected as the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette's Male Academic/Athlete for 2016-2017.

While his interest in business has been brewing for some time, Ronnel's kicking skills emerged suddenly. Although he was the kicker for his eighth-grade football team at Pulaski Heights, he did not get many opportunities to show off what he could do until his senior year.

"His progression and growth as a kicker came quickly," Central football Coach Ellis Register said. "I was impressed with the way he worked at it. He went to camps to get better, and he had great work habits. He worked at it every day."

Ronnel had two reasons why he was not serious about football during junior high: His team was not very good and he is undersized.

"I didn't get many opportunities to get on the field," said Ronnel, who also was listed as a free safety and wide receiver. "I would get my one kickoff a game, and for a lot of games, that was about it. I always had a pretty small frame for a football player. I was suited better body-wise for soccer."

Ronnel played Classic Soccer for Arkansas United

"It was my passion for a while," he said.

But he acknowledges he was not the best on the team or talented enough to play soccer in college.

For most of his sophomore and junior seasons, Ronnel's football kicking skills were raw and self-taught. When he got his first opportunity in a game, he hit a game-winner for his junior-varsity team against Catholic.

"When I hit that kick I started thinking, 'This is kinda fun. I may try to keep this up,' " Ronnel said.

Ronnel played in two varsity games during his junior season, kicking off in both contests. He made up for his lack of on-field opportunities during his senior season. Ronnel not only handled all the place-kicking chores but he also took care of the punting duties, averaging 39.0 yards a punt.

Ronnel is still developing as a kicker, which makes him a little different from his peers.

"Those guys have been getting professional training monthly since the seventh or eighth grade, and I just started a year or two ago," Ronnel said.

Ronnel said he did his homework on colleges every night after finishing his homework for school. Ronnel would look at what programs needed a kicker, who was graduating and who was worth his time. Since Ronnel got a late start with his kicking, he was behind when it came to colleges recruiting him.

"Getting into a good business school has been a goal of mine ever since my first year of high school," said Ronnel, who will redshirt his freshman season. "I was fortunate to get accepted into Texas, and I was fortunate to have the football program interested in me. It all just came together."

It took only two games into the 2016 season for Ronnel to gain the Longhorns' attention. Against Bentonville West, Ronnel kicked three fields and six of his kickoffs went for touchbacks. During the warm-up period before the game, Ronnel hit a field goal from 62 yards.

"I had a good one that day," Ronnel said.

Football and business were not Ronnel's only interests. He is the founder of the Tiger Trailblazers, a club that took the initiative to create and maintain hiking trails in central Arkansas. He also was a vice president of the Temple B'Nai Israel Youth Group and was a Junior Civitan, working with the Miracle League of Arkansas, a baseball league for disabled children.

"He's just a super kid," Register said. "He's a guy who's going to give you the very best at all times. He is top shelf."

Sports on 07/16/2017

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