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Naperville North kicker David Olano continues meteoric rise, commits to Illinois. ‘He just hits it so solid.’ – Chicago Tribune

Soccer always was the family sport for Naperville North’s David Olano.

Olano and his older brother, Pablo, played for the Huskies’ state powerhouse boys soccer program. David, however, also wanted to check out the Friday night lights.

“Ever since my freshman or sophomore year, I wanted to try out new sports,” he said. “Football was something I never did before.”

When Pablo graduated from Naperville North and went on to play college soccer at Mount Olive in North Carolina, David began to think even more about other options.

“I didn’t see myself playing soccer at the next level,” he said.

Instead, the 5-foot-11, 165-pound Olano moved one step closer to playing football in college. He continued his meteoric rise by committing to Illinois.

The senior-to-be kicker recently picked the Illini over an offer from Air Force and several preferred walk-on opportunities, including Notre Dame.

“I was open to pretty much anything,” Olano said. “I always thought it would be Illinois. Their special teams camp last year was the first recruiting camp I ever visited.”

With his height and weight, Olano has the ideal physical profile.

The road to Champaign, though, started after his sophomore spring soccer season ended as Olano sought out a training session with Chris Nendick.

Nendick, a Naperville Central graduate and former Northern Illinois standout, works with high school, college and professional kickers.

“He was very raw,” Nendick said of their first meeting. “He didn’t know anything about anything. He realized he could take things pretty far.

“He quickly caught on, spinning in his own direction to produce what we are seeing now.”

In his first year as Naperville North’s kicking specialist, Olano had a sensational junior season. He was perfect on his five field goal attempts.

He nailed a dramatic 43-yard winning kick as time expired on a fog-shrouded field against Metea Valley.

Since then, Olano has earned being ranked as the No. 1 high school kicker in the country, according to the Chris Sailer Kicking website.

“He’s a very committed, hardworking kid who knows what he wants,” Naperville North coach Sean Drendel said of Olano. “He made no bones about the fact he wanted to be a scholarship kid and he wanted to kick in college.”

Even during a truncated sophomore year playing soccer, Olano started at outside defender, underscoring his athleticism and toughness.

He acquired the necessary technique and skill development working with Nendick, but soccer was the ideal foundation.

“Soccer is one of the biggest reasons for my success in football,” Olano said. “The ball contact and the striking through, having that embedded in my brain has been crucial.

“Most of the kickers you see now were soccer players at some point.”

Drendel said the great allure for college coaches was Olano’s range and depth on kickoffs.

With the automatic touchback rule in high school, teams were repeatedly forced to start drives at their own 20-yard line against the Huskies.

“For a junior who really didn’t spend much time kicking before last year, the ball just comes off his foot,” Drendel said. “He just hits it so solid.

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“He has learned to kick it right and he is very accurate.”

Olano used a lack of football experience to his advantage. He had no bad habits to overcome. Under the tutelage of Nendick, he could mold himself like fresh clay.

“I never like to be told something that isn’t true,” Olano said. “Chris tells me straight up what I need to do. I think my style is very smooth and consistent.

“The biggest thing I have been working on is having the same swing every time.”

What began as a lark kicking the football around with his friends is turning into a dream come true — a dream that he might not have even known he had several years ago.

“Not a lot of kickers get a scholarship out of high school,” Olano said. “I’m very excited.”

Patrick Z. McGavin is a freelance reporter for the Naperville Sun.

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