Just for kicks: Nepalese kickers boost Northgate

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Northgate High School football coach T.J. Wiley recalls a conversation with his assistants from a few months ago.

"We joked around how a lot of schools have these kids move in that are impact players right away," Wiley said a day before his Flames secured their third win in as many games with a 21-7 Eastern Conference victory against rival North Catholic this past Friday night at Lt. J.C. Stone Field in North Park.

"We were saying how nice it would be if we could have an impact player," the coach said. "Guess what? We have two impact players who have moved in -- not from another state or another town but from another country."

Northgate place-kickers Dil Subba, a 16-year-old sophomore, and Raju Gurung, a 14-year-old freshman, moved with their families to Bellevue from Jhapa, Nepal, with the assistance of Catholic Charities.

Both teenagers are slight of build. Subba is 5 feet 4 and weighs 115 pounds, and Gurung is an even 5 feet tall and weighs 100. Gurung and his family arrived in 2010. Subba's family arrived a year later. They did not know each other in their hometown, saying that it's a large city in the eastern part of the mid-Asian country.

Nepal is located in the Himalayan Mountains, located between Tibet and India.

The kickers and their Northgate teammates, currently ranked No. 5 in the Post-Gazette's WPIAL Class A football rankings, will meet Wilkinsburg in a conference game at 7:30 tonight at the Flames' Alumni Memorial Field in Bellevue.

The two players have yet to make a tackle, but when the Flames line up to kick an extra point after a touchdown, they prove their worth, Wiley said. Last year's Flames struggled, making few successful point-after-touchdown kicking attempts. In three games this season, Subba has kicked four PATs, and Gurung has booted one.

"Last year, we had zero kicking game," Wiley said. "[Former Northgate standout quarterback] Jon Girvin did try, but those points are very important. I can think of two games where we could have possibly changed the outcome if we had a kicker.

"One of my biggest goals was to find a kicker; a kid who could focus on that. When I was told I had two guys who were really good soccer players who had big legs that was seen in their phys ed classes, I went and found them right away."

Though many area high schools field soccer teams, Northgate isn't one of them. But the school has some soccer balls for use in gym classes. Subba was kicking one of them, and his skills caught the eye of Bryan Kyle, Northgate's principal and athletic director.

"I was doing a classroom observation [last spring], and Dil was kicking a soccer ball," Kyle said. "I brought it to [Wiley's] attention that we might have a student in our school who has some skills on the soccer level that could possibly transfer to the kicking of a football."

Kyle found a football and asked Subba to kick it. The principal liked what he saw and told Wiley. The coach put Subba through an impromptu tryout during a lunch period this past spring when the team was conducting sign-ups.

News quickly spread through the school, and soon a crowd of students appeared at the practice field.

"A bunch of kids on their lunch period came out and watched [Subba]," Wiley said. "They were cheering for him and rooting him on. It got him even more excited because he thought they could do something that spurs on a little excitement."

When the team went through physicals in August, Gurung accompanied Subba and told Wiley he wanted to play football, too.

"I was aware of Dil for a couple of months, but Raju was a pleasant surprise," Wiley said. "They've been here since Day One and have been doing a great job."

Both athletes along with about 10 other Nepal natives are enrolled in the school's English as a Second Language curriculum, and they continue to master a new language that features a vastly different language from the one they grew up speaking and writing and a different alphabet.

Kyle and Wiley say the two have been accepted not only by the football team, but by the Northgate student body.

"It's a unique story, and it's a good one," Kyle said. "The good thing is that the players have accepted the boys tremendously. I've watched them practice with them. [The team] is very enthusiastic and are supportive of the two boys. They're well-liked by the student body. We have 12 or 13 students from Nepal here."

Wiley told his players that the kickers might make a difference in the Flames' fortunes this season.

"I think our guys appreciate them because they are helping the team," the coach said. "I do tell them on kickoffs or extra points, it's your job to protect these two young men. They shouldn't be touched at all."

Wiley expects the two kickers to only get better.

"We haven't attempted an actual field goal yet," he said. "But I feel that Dil, our main kicker, can make it from 35 yards with no problems. Raju, maybe from 25 on in. But he's young. And they are still learning the game."

The learning curve is a broad one. But Wiley is proud to be a part of the kickers' development.

"The kicker is always overlooked," he said. "But both of them are huge in what we are doing this year because we actually have a threat on the kickoff now. We also have a threat on PATs and on field goals if we need it.

"It is unique, but it's great, and I love it. I'm enjoying these kids, and it's added a neat spark to our team. That sets us apart from everyone else."



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