Jon Heil: He Punts, He Runs, He Scores

Ryder Chasin, Sports Editor

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At 1:15 p.m. on Tuesday, Nov. 29, a pressure began to grow inside the head of Jon Heil ’12. Before long, the pressure grew to pain, the pain amounted to pounding, and by the start of that night’s football game, a playoff game against an 8-2 Ridgefield team, the pounding had turned to a full blown headache.

Sweat already emerging from his hairline, Heil gingerly secured his helmet around his chin. Head Coach Marce Petroccio put him in as their starting running back.

“I thought I was going to throw up most of the first half,” Heil said. “Breaking a record never crossed my mind.”

Nonetheless, in what can only be described by Petroccio as an “electric” game, Heil ran for a school record 366 yards on that night, scoring four touchdowns on 27 carries, more than doubling his season total of 364 yards, and leading Staples to a 48-21 victory.

And he sat out the fourth quarter.

“I didn’t even realize. The number 300 never came up. To do that in a playoff game—it’s unheard of,” Petroccio said. “He’s just a great kid, and it was a beautiful thing to watch.”

Heil started playing as a running back in seventh grade, and according to Petroccio, he is now an asset to the team.

“We have three guys who can play the position. One guy is a slasher. One guy is bigger,” Petroccio said. “Then you bring Jon in and he’s got a little of everything.”

He doesn’t just run, though.

According to Petroccio, Heil blocked three punts during the regular season, which Petrocciosaid “had to be the most in the FCIAC, absolutely.”

“Some teams don’t block three punts in a season,” Petroccio said. “When you block a punt, it’s demoralizing—you get momentum, you get confidence. It’s really a game changer.”

However, as good as he may be, his running back prowess isn’t what’s getting him national attention. Neither is his ability to block punts.

Although he started just this year, Heil is already ranked the eighth best punter in the country, averaging a CIAC-best 44 yards per kick. Petroccio has received calls from colleges nationwide, including one from Harvard, asking about Heil’s punting ability.

“Punting is never a bad play. The fact that he can boom the ball the way he does—it’s a great weapon,” Petroccio said. “You know when you’ve got a guy like that, who can kick the ball the way he does, you’re in good shape.”

To Heil, punting was never something that occurred to him to try. Yet, after the season, he was named to both the All-FCIAC team and the New Haven Register All-State team.

“It was kind of a surprise that I did that well at punting because I started senior year practicing maybe once or twice a week,” Heil said. “It still hasn’t really hit me that I was eighth in the country, but it’s definitely something I’m proud of.”

According to Petroccio, the element that Heil brings to the punting position is his speed. Petroccio says he’s always a threat to fake the punt and run down the field.

“He caught a bad snap in a game earlier this season and said ‘I’m not going to get it off.’ So instead, he ran 68 yards and scored a touchdown,” Petroccio said. “That’s absolutely ridiculous.”

Petroccio and Heil alike attribute this speed to Heil’s winter and spring sport: indoor and outdoor track. This year, as one of the team’s captains, Head Coach Laddie Lawrence says he has some big expectations for Heil.

“When he fails, he sucks it up and tries to do better the next time,” Lawrence said. “That usually doesn’t happen though. He usually does well.”

According to Lawrence, Heil has been the leadoff runner in the New England champion 4×400-meter relay team and has been named to the All New-England team for each of the past two years. His 11.3 second 100-meter dash is the team’s best returning time, and his 36.16 second 300-meter dash leaves Lawrence like Petroccio, with no other word to describe Heil’s performance but “electric.”

“He’s one of the hardest working guys on the team. If you told him to run into a wall, he’d do it—although, he’s smart enough not to,” Lawrence said with a chuckle. He smiled. “I love working with kids like that.”

And, according to Heil, he loves being able to work with Lawrence and the rest of the team.

“It was an honor to be named a captain,” Heil said. “But I also knew that that meant I needed to step up and become a leader and a good example for the younger kids.”

To Lawrence, that’s not a point of concern.

“He’s quiet and unassuming. I like quiet leadership,” Lawrence said. “He doesn’t hide when it’s time to do a good workout, he just shows the newer guys how it’s done.”

But what both Lawrence and Petroccio agree on is Heil’s athleticism, and in the end that’s what matters to the team’s performance.

“In my 19 years we’ve had a lot of great athletes. Jon is right up there with some of the best,” Petroccio said. “Definitely in the top 10. No doubt.”

Although Heil has proven himself enough to be named team captain, Larwrence still wants to take one more look.

“He’s definitely one of the better athletes. It’s usually your senior year where you peak—where everything comes to fruition,” Lawrence said. “We’ll just have to see what Jon can make of it.”

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