Featured in the Sarasota Herald Tribune, ODA's senior placekicker from the Czech Republic can boom kicks from 60 yards out and play wide receiver. This well-rounded student is also an all-state soccer player who often stars in musical productions and performances.
The best player on the Out-of-Door Academy football team isn’t a quarterback or running back. He sees time at wide receiver, but at 6-foot-2 and 204 pounds, really has the body to play tight end.
“Yeah, that’s definitely something I get a lot,” Filip Svoboda said.
A team captain and emotional leader, Svoboda played soccer in his native Czech Republic, which should provide the clue to how he most helps the ODA squad.
When it’s time to kick a field goal. Then the affable senior turns into Thunder Foot.
“If we get into a situation,” head coach Chris Kempton said, “we’ll try a field goal from 60 (yards). He’s a great weapon.”
Svoboda hasn’t converted one from that far out — his longest field goal last season was 45 yards. The year before, 54. Thunder players on their kickoff-coverage team have gotten used to his kickoffs soaring into the end zone for touchbacks at a rate between 70 to 80 percent. He’s also improving as ODA’s first-year punter.
One of the reasons Svoboda was named a Thunder captain, Kempton said, is because of his toughness, a trait not normally associated with placekickers.
The 18-year-old didn’t suddenly develop this gridiron grittiness when he pulled on a pair of shoulder pads for the first time. He’s played soccer since age 6 — once for a Czech Republic youth academy affiliated with a pro team, and even now for the Thunder varsity squad — and doesn’t back down from contact.
At 6-2 and 200-plus pounds, Svoboda doesn’t have to.
“He’s been known to get a red card or two in soccer,” Kempton said. “So he’s very, very aggressive and I think the kids kind of looked at his toughness.”
“That is true,” Svoboda said. “I won’t deny it. I think that’s part of my game and I got to make sure it stays between the boundaries.”
One such incident happened in the Thunder’s district soccer final. Svoboda was assessed a red card for stepping on an opponent.
At least that’s what the official saw.
“He was lying on the ground, but I stepped over him and the referee thought I stepped on him,” Svoboda said.
Five years ago, his family moved from the Czech Republic to Florida for work. They originally settled in Fort Myers, but the clan moved up the coast and Svoboda eventually enrolled at ODA.
He arrived as a soccer player, but wanted to try kicking the oblong hunk of leather. Svoboda came out to one of the Thunder’s practices and loved the atmosphere.
“He loved the team camaraderie,” Kempton said. “He had never played (American) football before.”
“The coach said come on out,” Svoboda said. “I did and I think from day one, they kind of saw something in me because I could kick the ball pretty far.”
And that created its own type of pressure. One married to expectation.
“If you come out there the first time and boom a 40-yarder once,” he said, “the expectations rise. So I think the biggest challenge was getting better, even though I had a pretty high bar from the beginning.”
Understandably, Svoboda’s dad is proud of his son’s success playing American football. Even if he doesn’t care much for the sport.
“My dad, he can’t watch it because of all the commercials on TV,” he said. “He’s used to the flowing game like soccer, but I definitely learned to love the game. When you understand it, it’s beautiful to watch, but it takes some time for people who see it for the first time.”
The aspiring lawyer from a family of lawyers, Svoboda wants to kick in college. He’s already visited Syracuse, but knows he has to have a good senior season.
A soccer player by way of the Czech Republic, hoping to kick a football at an American college.
Only in America.