Two-sport athlete turns into reliable kicker for GVSU

GVL / Emily Frye
Junior PK Joel Schipper on Oct. 24th.

GVL / Emily Frye Junior PK Joel Schipper on Oct. 24th.

Adam Knorr

Every time Joel Schipper steps onto the football field, he’s on an island.

Thousands of eyes train on No. 19. Two strides and a pendulum swing later, the ball is in the air. It splits the uprights. Schipper takes helmet-slaps and congratulations from his teammates. He returns them.

Seconds later, Schipper is back on the island, lining up for a kickoff. It’s new to him this year, but it doesn’t matter. The Grand Valley State kicker is nearly as reliable as they come.

Schipper, a junior, has drilled 10-of-11 field goals this season, with a long of 46, and converted 40-of-41 extra points. The Grand Rapids Christian graduate took the standard soccer-to-football route that hundreds of high school kickers take every year, only his route brought him to college ball.

Schipper joined the football ranks as a sophomore in high school. The first time out, it was apparent that Schipper had potential at the next level.

“My high school coach came out the first day I ever kicked a ball and said, ‘I’m going to tell you right now there’s a lot more opportunities to kick in college than there are to play soccer.’ I was kind of at that point where I had to pick what I was doing and after my first kick I knew this was something I wanted to do,” Schipper said.

Division I looks from Michigan State, Wisconsin, Western Michigan and other schools fell through. At that point, Schipper felt his best choice was to go somewhere he could play both football and baseball. As it does to many two-sport athletes, GVSU called.

Upon joining the team, Schipper found himself on another island, this one with a low population. He started for the Lakers as a true freshman, something only a handful of players get to do at the prestigious Division II program.

“There have not been a lot of true freshmen that play at Grand Valley,” said GVSU head coach Matt Mitchell. “My 12 years here, I think the last guy prior to him and (Nick) Dodson was like (current Dallas Cowboy) Brandon Carr. We had a big need for a kicker, we had a kid locally that wanted to do both sports, which was unique, and he had a lot of Division I interested for kicking and we were fortunate enough to get him. He’s extremely talented, and I think the difference between two years ago and this year is just confidence.”

While the Lakers have a had a few true freshmen play in recent years, the list remains exclusive. In his first year, however, Schipper had few issues adjusting or orienting himself to the big stage. As a freshman, he knocked down 13-of-16 field goals and led the team in points. In an Oct. 17 matchup against Michigan Tech this season, Schipper nailed a 34-yard field goal to move into ninth place on the GVSU all-time scoring list.

“It’s pretty weird, you never really think about it,” Schipper said. “We got Jamie Potts, Matt Williams, they’ve played great these first eight games, scored a lot of touchdowns. I just go out there one kick at a time.”

While Schipper is in his third season of placekicking duties for GVSU, he was given an extra job this year after the departure of kickoff man Marco Iaderosa last season. The Lakers needed someone to fill that role, and it fell on Schipper to make it happen.

Through workouts, Schipper has strengthened his leg and turned into a reliable kickoff-taker for GVSU. Last week against Findlay, however, Schipper booted a kickoff out of bounds. Practice, for kicking units, usually doesn’t involve as much running or labor as it does for the rest of the team.

Except when Schipper’s kick sails wide of the sidelines.

“Usually we just kind of fake ab (workouts) on the sideline,” he said. “But this week it’s a little different because I caused a penalty by kicking the ball out of bounds so I’m going to have to run gassers with the team.”

Schipper’s GVSU-long is 46 yards, but he drilled a 49-yarder in high school, which stands as his career long. On the baseball field, Schipper plays both infield and outfield for the Lakers, and had played in 50 games so far in his two-season career.

Sometimes, when he’s on the diamond, Schipper is on an island. He strides to the plate, digs into the batter’s box, and again, all eyes are on him.

But it doesn’t matter. Schipper strides, plants and swings. The ball sails into the air, just where it’s supposed to be.