Eric Hewitson may play a position where it is easy to fly under the radar, but the kicker does not shy away from the spotlight.
Hewitson, who made the transition from the soccer pitch to the gridiron in high school, leads the University of Toronto Varsity Blues in scoring and has converted on six of seven field-goal attempts this season with the longest coming from 40 yards out.
A native of Cambridge, Ont., Hewitson thrives in pressure-packed situations, using back-handed comments from opposing teams as extra motivation — “watch the wind … watch the bad snap … you’re going to miss wide left,” — that sort of stuff.
“Honestly, when I hear that, I smile because I’m excited for them to see the ball go through the uprights,” Hewitson said in a telephone interview Friday morning.
“I use it as motivation. I love the pressure. It’s something that I excel with.
“The pressure just gives me a different feeling before I kick the ball. It gives me a very calming sensation and I feel I kick better with the pressure on me to be honest.”
University of Toronto kicking coach Jeff Mandelker helped the 20-year-old grow accustomed to the noise level and high-leverage situations, especially in his rookie season a year ago.
“Last year was his first year with the team, and last year was really a testing ground,” Mandelker said Thursday prior to practice at Varsity Stadium. “We would go and kick field goals and I would encourage all the other guys to make a lot of noise, make a lot of clamour to try and throw him off.”
At practice, Mandelker is only responsible for overseeing three players on the entire roster. As a result, the relationship Hewitson and his coach share is a unique one.
“It allows me to focus more. I know his strengths and weaknesses and it’s better that way,” Mandelker said. “There’s a whole flock out there. Working with a small group, you can focus on a lot of things. It’s easier when you’re just working with two or three.”
Even though instruction is not as hands-on as it is with other positions, for Hewitson, having his coach by his side to constantly support him and keep a positive attitude goes a long way.
“It’s definitely a unique relationship,” Hewitson said. “The [other players] have a much more in-depth tactical plan with their coaches.
“Coach Jeff really gives us free reign to improve our craft the way that we know we can, and he’s just a huge encouragement. He treats us like professionals and he’s a really special guy.”
Despite not playing as many snaps as his teammates, according to Hewitson, one of the main reasons for his success this season has been the camaraderie that exists amongst Blues players on and off of the gridiron.
“I have a great relationship with all my other teammates,” Hewitson said. “We like to joke around. I really have to acknowledge my teammates as being an incredible group of guys.
Offence, defence and special teams, we’re all really tight. Sometimes you see in other programs that the offence and defence can get divided.
“All we do is support one another, and honestly that’s why I feel like I’ve had a lot of success this year. It’s because of the composure, attitude and confidence from all of my teammates.”
Studying English and professional writing at the University of Toronto’s Mississauga campus, Hewitson hopes to one day break into the sports media landscape. For now, though, he is soaking up life as the Blues’ kicker and does not take any of it for granted.
“I appreciate every moment,” Hewitson said. “I’m just really privileged to have the teammates that I have, compete on the stage that I compete on, and play the game that I’m addicted to.”