GOHEELS EXCLUSIVE: A FAMILY MENTALITY
Article Published by: goheels.com
Among the items inside the bonus room of his Charlotte home, Dan Orner receives more questions about one, a football featuring Syracuse’s logo, than any.
Orner grew up in Warwick, New York, about 200 miles southeast of Syracuse. A member of his high school baseball, soccer and track teams, he also served as the place-kicker for the football team. And each year, he and his teammates played their season opener at the Carrier Dome.
During his visit to the Syracuse facility as a senior, Orner said he kicked a 57-yard field goal off the top of the uprights and booted kickoffs into the end zone stands. Surely, he thought, the effort would garner the Orange’s interest. But Syracuse never came calling. Ultimately, Orner signed with Michigan State. He then transferred to North Carolina before the 2001 season.
After never kicking in a game with the Spartans and sitting out the 2001 campaign per NCAA rules, Orner made his collegiate debut against Miami of Ohio on Aug. 31, 2002. His first road game came a week later at Syracuse.
“When I went back there,” said Orner earlier this week, “it was definitely on my mind to make sure they were aware of what they missed out on.”
He accomplished that and much more.
In the Tar Heels’ 30-22 win, Orner made field goals from 52, 51 and 55 yards for his first kicks of his college career, tying an NCAA record for most 50-yard-plus kicks in a game. Three kickers had met that mark before Orner, and two others have matched it since him. Orner’s 55-yarder also remains the longest field goal made in UNC history.
About a week after that game, Orner received a written apology from Syracuse head coach Paul Pasqualoni for not recruiting him. Orner’s much-asked-about football accompanied the letter.
“I thought it was such a classy move for I guess how bitter I was after high school,” Orner said.
When Carolina faces Syracuse on Saturday, it will be the first game between the two schools at the Carrier Dome since Orner’s memorable performance. Orner won’t be on the field this time. But Freeman Jones, one of Orner’s several proteges, will be.
During his junior season in 2002, Orner began working with Connor and Casey Barth, who he’d met at a kicking camp he assisted with. The Barths, from Wilmington, drove to Chapel Hill about two Sundays each month to kick with Orner. They later succeeded him after his senior season.
Orner signed a free agent contract with the Minnesota Vikings in 2004, but was cut during the preseason. Around that same time, Connor and Casey’s father, Thomas, suggested the idea of Orner becoming a kicking instructor.
“It was a great way for me to stay in football and kind of fill the void of not having a luxurious career in the NFL,” Orner said. “It was something I had a ton of energy for, a ton of passion for, and I started working with one or two guys in the Charlotte area after Connor.
“One or two guys then got scholarships to go to ACC schools, and I remember sitting down and going, ‘I’ve got to get pretty serious about this. I think I could really change some peoples’ lives.'”
And he has for the last 14 years.
Providing instruction to athletes from age 12 through the NFL level, Orner helps kickers and punters fine-tune their mechanics to attain optimal performance. He offers group and individual lessons. He’s also served as the lead evaluator of kickers and punters for Team USA Football.
As much as Orner assists kickers and punters with their technique, he focuses on their mental approach, as well.
“It’s a very individualized craft where you don’t have a caddy a lot of times to go, ‘Hey, slow down your backswing,’ or something like that,” Orner said. “It’s a lot of hours when you’re in high school and early on in college, creating that muscle memory and that replication so that you can get yourself out of mental trouble.”
Jones, then a sophomore at Bunn High School, started working with Orner in 2011. With Orner’s help, Jones became a U.S. Army All-American and was listed as the No. 5 kicker in the nation by 247Sports.com when he enrolled at UNC in 2014.
Even now, Jones said he and Orner talk at least every two weeks.
“He’s equipped me with a lot of knowledge to be able to apply it when I’m on the field, technique-wise,” Jones said. “Now if I’m using that too much and I’m overanalyzing, then that can kind of go the other way for me. So I just trust in the plan that I have and he’s helped me put together and trust to keep it simple and make sure I run that plan every day.”
Each plan and drill Orner prescribes is specific to the athlete’s strengths and weaknesses. He said he tries to emphasize the former more than the latter. Positivity means so much at the position.
Jones’ “moneymakers,” as Orner called them, are the directness of his swing, his explosion off his plant leg and his tempo to the ball. If any of that gets out of sync, Jones records a video of himself kicking on his cell phone and sends it to Orner.
“He can text me before or after practice and we can make adjustments in real time that he can go in the next day and just fix,” Orner said. “To his credit, he helps me out with all my camps that I do in the Chapel Hill area, and he’s constantly helping out younger guys. So if you’re able to fix the younger guys’ swing issues and you have that issue yourself, you can refer back to it.
“I always tell him all the time, ‘If you don’t go in the NFL, I will definitely hire you as part of my team.’ I believe in the kid that much.”
Jones has made 11-of-15 field goals this season, the most by any Carolina kicker through five games since at least 2000. He’s made a career-high four field goals twice. At his current pace, he would break the school record of 21 field goals made in a season, set by Clint Gwaltney (1990) and Casey Barth (2009).
Since Jones joined the Tar Heels, Orner has motivated him to break all his records, as well as others. That’s not Jones’ singular focus. But if he surpasses Orner’s records on Saturday, that’d give Orner another pleasant memory of the Carrier Dome.
“I’ll tell whoever the next kicker is after Freeman the same things,” Orner said. “‘Break all of Connor’s records, break Casey’s records, break mine and Jeff Reed’s.’ When I was playing and Jeff Reed was a great, he was telling me the same thing. ‘I hope you blow everything out of the water.’ It’s a family mentality.”
About Scott Livengood
Scott Livengood is the owner and CEO of Dewey’s Bakery, Inc., a commercial wholesale bakery with a respected national brand of ultra premium cookies and crackers.
Previously, Scott worked at Krispy Kreme Doughnuts for 27 years, starting as a trainee in 1977. He was appointed President of the company in 1992, then CEO and Chairman of the Board.
Scott has served on numerous boards including the Carter Center, the Calloway School of Business and the Babcock School of Management, Habitat for Humanity of Forsyth County, and the Winston-Salem Chamber of Commerce.
He started a new business, StoryWork International, in 2016 with Richard Stone. The signature achievement to date is LivingStories, a story-based program for improved patient experiences and outcomes in partnership with Novant Health.