COLCHESTER — His second shoulder surgery was going to end Sean Baldyga’s football career. The tweet went out last November and everything.
He had played three games as a sophomore running back for Bacon Academy before the first injury. The second came again in Week 3 of last season, his junior year.
He hoped those six games wouldn’t be his last. Sitting at dinner with his parents around Thanksgiving 2018, he feared they were. Baseball season was coming, and at least his throwing shoulder wasn’t injured, but even that joy was fading.
Then Steve Baldyga threw out an idea, something Sean and his mother, Andrea, were both skeptical about at first. Dislocated with a torn labrum, Sean’s shoulder was done. His legs weren’t.
“Every team needs a kicker,” Sean remembered his father saying.
“At first, I was like, I don’t really know about it. But I missed the team so much. It was tough going to the games and having to sit out.”
Determined to stay a part of his team, Baldyga has gone in 10 months from a junior whose career was over to a senior hoping to kick for a college team.
He made his official debut as the Bobcats’ kicker and punter last Friday, going 7-for-7 on extra points in a 49-0 win over Windham. And he was proud that six of his eight kickoffs went for at least 50 yards.
“It came up at the end of the year last year,” Bobcats coach Dave Mason said.
“In December, we knew he wasn’t going to be playing anymore. He approached me in January and told me he wanted to contribute to the team, be a good team member. He knew he couldn’t go in there and throw his shoulder into anybody anymore.”
Baldyga played soccer until eighth grade, so he had at least kicked a football of some sort before. But he knew he had a lot to learn. Videos on YouTube helped him grasp the fundamentals.
Teammate Jake Cavallo watched Baldyga research what he needed to do, working on leg strength in the weight room.
“I was psyched,” Cavallo said. “I knew, with his work ethic, he was going to come back and take the spot.”
When Baldyga started kicking on the field, he could make decent contact but had no real accuracy. His longest field goal was around 30 yards.
“I knew I was behind, because most kids who are kicking and punting have been doing it awhile,” Baldyga said. “I picked it up somewhat naturally, but I forced myself to practice three times a week over the summer, just go down to the field about an hour each time and just work at it.”
Accuracy came. He focuses on getting the swing right, the kicking motion, keeping his head down, staying tall. And doing all of that takes away the external pressure of making the kick.
Mason said the way Baldyga worked was no surprise. Baldyga’s teammates voted him a captain this season.
“He’s a guy that leads by example. He speaks up when he needs to, but when he speaks up, people listen,” Mason said.
“Whether it’s grades, he’s over a 4.0. … He’s working hard in the classroom, doing the extra stuff that we ask.”
Baldyga was the first one on the back field at Bacon Academy at a practice this week, kicking field goals on his own. Teammates trickled down the hill as he kicked from 40 yards, a metal tripod holding for him.
“That was good from another 10, 15 yards,” one yelled after he drilled one kick. He moved back to 50 yards. The first was a little short of the crossbar. The second was good.
“For a kid who’d never kicked before, I think he did a fantastic job” in the opener, Mason said.
“It’s given us a different part of the game we didn’t have before. … If we’re down in the red zone, we can kick if it’s fourth-and-5, and we don’t have to force one into the end zone.”
Colleges are already in touch, and he’s interested in kicking at the next level; playing baseball in college was his initial goal, but he said he’s a bit burned out on baseball, though he’s excited for one more spring as a Bobcat.
Anything past this year would just be a bonus. Kicking bought him one more fall with his Bacon Academy teammates, “the brotherhood,” he said, and a chance to help the Bobcats make a run at a Class S playoff berth. They visit Stonington on Friday.
“I wouldn’t have come back if it wasn’t for the group of guys out there,” Baldyga said. “They were the reason I practiced so hard in the offseason. I wanted to do everything I could to help us have a good year.”