Just as the fledgling Las Vegas Outlaws were to begin an open tryout to find a field goal kicker and a guy who can boot the ball off the nets on kickoffs, a straggler straggled into the Las Vegas Sportspark soccer fields in Summerlin on Saturday morning.
The straggler looked older than the other wannabe indoor football kickers.
R. Mapel. DOB: 7-3-62.
While the other specialists limbered up by kicking official Arena Football League striped footballs over fences or between narrow makeshift goal posts made of bright yellow tape, R. Mapel stood in the shadows cast by the Sportspark.
He smoked a cigarette and ate a glazed doughnut.
He was wearing a red cap and a black T-shirt with Johnny Cash’s picture on the front. He had a colorful tattoo with swirls and flourishes going up and down his kicking leg.
Please let this man be legit. Please let this man be Roy Hobbs’ first or second cousin.
“I so wanted to see him put his leg into one and go BOOM!” said Sean Coen, special teams coach of the Outlaws, who will try to succeed where other Las Vegas indoor football teams have failed, beginning March 30 against the San Jose SaberCats at the Thomas &Mack Center.
When it was Randol Mapel’s turn to kick, he did not boom one.
His first kick fluttered about 10 yards off the kicking-tee contraption in the manner of a wounded pheasant. His second kick dribbled left, took a couple of weird bounces. It would have made a great onside kick, but the Outlaws were looking for a guy who could boom them off the end zone nets.
Most of the 23 who tried out had toned calves and muscular thighs.
Most had a story to tell that included a football dream and sleeping in a car.
One came from Tokyo via San Diego. Somebody said he planned to try out for the Chargers.
One told an inspirational story.
The first of the hopefuls I noticed had No. 22 on his tryout bib, a powerful right leg and a stub for a right arm.
This was Nick Gatto of suburban Houston.
Gatto, 37, was born without a right arm below the elbow. He also has overcome a bad stutter. He was the only one on hand who had kicked the striped football off the nets and between the skinny goal posts during indoor football games that counted, as far as anybody knew.
In 2002, Gatto connected on 8 of 20 field goal attempts and 22 of 30 extra points for the Orlando Predators to make the Arena Football League’s All-Rookie team. He has spent parts of 13 seasons kicking the striped football off nets and through narrow uprights in officially sanctioned indoor football games.
He’d like to make it parts of 14 seasons. That’s what brought the former Arkansas State specialist to Las Vegas at an early hour Saturday.
Nick Gatto boomed his first practice kick. You could hear the dull thud when his instep struck the football.
You could not hear the little pop.
This was the sound the quad muscle on Gatto’s kicking leg made.
He tried two more practice kicks; the pop got louder. Nick Gatto withdrew from the competition. He operates a kicking and punting school called Fourth and 10 back home. He could not risk injury because he has clients who paid good money for kicking instruction, and the most he ever made kicking in a hockey arena was $2,000 a week.
The Outlaws said they would bring Gatto back for a tryout when his quad muscle ceased popping. He’s earned that much. Coen said he was an assistant coach with the Predators when one of the New York Dragons fielded a Gatto kickoff and broke through a wave of defenders, leaving Nick Gatto the only man to beat.
Gatto slayed the Dragon — laid him right out, Coen said. The crowd went crazy when the one-armed guy made that tackle.
But it didn’t go quite as well as Nick Gatto had hoped Saturday. That’s football, he said. That’s arena football. He was out around $400. The early-morning flight on Spirit cost only $63, but he had to pay more for a return flight on Delta.
So Gatto encouraged the other kickers and bumped fists with them after every dull thud.
The field of hopefuls was trimmed from 22 and R. Mapel to eight, one of whom was former UNLV kicker Nolan Kohorst, and then the field was trimmed to four, and then to one — a guy with a ponytail and muscular calves and a white soccer jersey that said Sierra Leone on front.
Ali Mourtada said he drove from his home in Goodyear, Ariz., to Las Vegas on Friday night and slept in his car in the parking lot of Life Time Athletic on West Charleston.
Now that he has made the team, he said he would apply for a job there to supplement his income.
Las Vegas Review-Journal sports columnist Ron Kantowski can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-0352. Follow him on Twitter: @ronkantowski.