The Star Beacon; Ashtabula, Ohio

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November 7, 2011

Ashtabula County Football Hall of Fame, Second of a Series: What about Bob?

Dombroski got his kicks in a big way at Edgewood

NORTH KINGSVILLE — Bob Dombroski never really received much instruction on kicking a football until he reached college.

He honed his skill in his backyard and on the fields at Edgewood High School and Corlew Stadium, with his father holding the ball for hours at a time.

The lack of instruction mattered little. Dombroski went on to become one of the most prolific kickers in Ashtabula County football history as well as University of Akron history.

The son of Jim and Sandy Dombroski will join his uncle, Conneaut’s Paul Dombroski, in the Ashtabula County Football Hall of Fame when he is inducted at the Ashtabula County Touchdown Club Awards Dinner on Dec. 5.

 

Kicking off

It doesn’t get much simpler than the start Dombroski had as a kicker. He didn’t see a game on TV and want to try kicking. He wasn’t on a football field and asked to try it.

Dombroski’s whole career can be traced to a day when he was in elementary school and playing around with a friend.

“I was in midget football and a neighbor kid had a makeshift field-goal post in his back yard,” Dombroski said. “He started kicking it through. I tried to do it and I liked it. I put up a post in my yard and got a bunch of footballs of different sizes and shapes and kept (kicking them) over and over.”

And, thus, a legend was born.

With no real instruction in the art of kicking, Dombroski developed a style on his own. He didn’t pay much attention to kickers while he watched football on television, but began kicking the ball in what was then known as a soccer-style approach – a style most kickers use today.

“Beginning as a kid, I was kicking soccer-style,” Dombroski said. “Nobody taught me. (Geneva great) Rich Spangler was a couple of years ahead of me and kicked straight on. I never played soccer and I never watched soccer. I loved kickball and knew I had a strong leg.”

It didn’t take long for Dombroski’s new skill to catch the attention of his midget football coach.

“Dave Anthony saw what I could do and he liked it,” Dombroski said. “We actually tried an extra point in a game.”

Dombroski continued to practice in his back yard, mostly on his own. He used to have his goal post set up in front of some trees.

“My best kicks used to clear the top of the tree,” he said. “My dad used to say I had it tougher every year because I had to get it higher (because the tree was growing). I tried kicks from all different angles.”

At Braden Junior High, he was pressed into action, as well.

“Al Runyan had us try some extra points,” Dombroski said. “I missed two of them, I think.”

Those Bulldogs’ teams were very good. And they included a local celebrity-to-be on the roster.

“We were undefeated in both eighth and ninth grade,” Dombroski said. “Joe Pete (now known as Mr. Sports — aka, The King of Ashtabula County Media) was a middle linebacker for us.”

 

Warrior uprising

As he graduated from being a Bulldog to a Warrior his sophomore year, Dombroski’s bandwagon picked up a few fans in former Edgewood football coach Dave Melaragno and former Ohio State punter Gary Lago.

“I want to empshasize that my mom and dad were my biggest supporters,” Dombroski said. “I knew they were in the stands. They were there to support me. Coach Melaragno believed in me. There wasn’t anything he would not have done for me. He helped me pursue a big (football) school. I feel like I let him down because I didn’t go to one. Gary Lago had a big influence on me.”

Over the next three seasons, Dombroski became one of Melaragno’s most lethal offensive weapons, though at 5-foot-10, 185 pounds, he was never used as a halfback, receiver or quarterback.

“Dave just wanted me to kick and punt, so I stuck with it,” Dombroski said. “(Melaragno) was very helpful with everything I did. He even went to a three-day kicking camp at Akron with me.”

During his career at Edgewood, Dombroski was highly regarded, not just in Ashtabula County, but statewide, as well.

He was 5 of 9 on field goal attempts in his senior season, with two of those kicks being from further than 40 yards out and was named first-team Star Beacon All-Ashtabula County and Coaches’ All-NEC as a kicker all three years he was a varsity player for the Warriors. He was also first-team Star Beacnon All-Ashtabula County and Coaches’ All-NEC as a punter as both a junior and senior

As a senior, Dombroski was the coverboy for “Kickoff ’84”, the Star Beacon’s high school football preview.

Those five field goals his senior season earned Dombroski honors on the UPI Class AAA All-Ohio team. His future brother-in-law, Steve Kehoe (who married Dombroski’s sister, Karen) was named to the second team as a defensive end and Dave McLaughlin of Conneaut was an honorable-mention defensive lineman that same season

“Bob won about four games for us during his career,” Melaragno told the Star Beacon after Dombroski was named All-Ohio. “We counted on him quite a bit. We never panicked when we got over the 50-yard line because we knew we had him.”

It didn’t hurt Dombroski to be kicking on what was known as the best home field in the area at then-Warrior Stadium.

“We always had the nicest field,” Dombroski said. “They didn’t let anybody else play on it. It was nice to kick on the nicest field in the NEC. I loved it.”

Dombroski averaged nearly 40 yards per punt as junior and senior

Those accolades had recruiters of a slew of big-time college football programs, including Ohio State, Michigan, Penn State, Purdue, Syracuse and North Carolina State.

 

Zipping through

Though recruited by a number of big-time college programs, Dombroski elected to play football while attending the University of Akron.

“I didn’t even know that was my goal (before high school),” Dombroski said. “I just know I had fun kicking. Obviously, the more you do it, the more accurate you get. The next thing I knew, I found myself kicking them in games and practices (when I was younger). I spent a lot of time kicking off the tee. I did spend many hours kicking.”

That camp Dombroski attended with Melaragno paved his path to the school.

“It turns out, the guy running the camp had an idea who I was because I did stand out,” Dombroski said. “I was the one kicking the farthest. It turned out that he was the who recruited me (to Akron).”

There was a good reason Dombroski chose Akron over those bigger schools that recruited him.

“The big thing was the scholarship,” he said. “I wasn’t offered too many full rides. There were a lot of big-time schools (I was talking to) – Big Ten schools and other big-time programs. They were coming to my high school practices. They just didn’t want to give a full ride to a kicker. You have to prove yourself to a school before they do that.”

One of the recruiters from those big schools gave Dombroski some advice while they were talking one day on the telephone.

“He asked me anybody was offering me any money,” Dombroski said. “He told me to take the money and run, meaning that I should take what I could get before I had to prove myself to get the (scholarship) money.

“It’s a different recruiting process for a kicker. You have to make the team and be a starter before you get any scholarship money.”

Before he ever set foot on Akron’s campus, his program-to-be underwent major changes.

“I graduated in 1985 (from Edgewood) and Akron was in the Ohio Valley Conference,” he said. “Jim Dennison recruited me. That winter, Gerry Faust was fired from Notre Dame and all hell broke loose.”

Faust was hired to replace Dennison as coach of the Zips. That wasn’t the only change the university’s football program underwent, however. Akron then made the jump from Division I-AA to Division I-A during that same time.

“(Faust became coach) and we went from I-AA to Division I,” Dombroski said. “Akron was one of the first to do it in football. I had to prove myself all over again and I ended up starting all four years.”

As a redshirt freshman, Dombroski kicked four field goals against the Youngstown State and made all six of his PATs against New Mexico State. He made 33 straight PATS – a school record – that season. He made 18 of 19 PATs and 14 of 23 field goals as a sophomore and was good on three field goals against Nicholls State.

As a junior, he was 19 of 19 on PATs and 16 of 21 on field goals. He made two field goals in six different games and set the Akron school record for longest field goal with a 54-yard boot against Youngstown State. The previous record was a 53-yarder Dennis Heckman. He made field goals of 50 and 54 yards that season and two of his five misses were from longer than 50 yards.

Dombrowski won a pair of games for the Zips with last-second field goals that season.

He beat New Mexico on the road, 30-28, with a 22-yard attempt as time expired on Sept. 24. On Oct. 29, he beat Cal State-Fullerton, 15-14, with a 24-yard try with one second remaining.

“That son of a gun Dombroski will miss sometimes when there is no pressure on him,” Faust told the Akron Beacon Journal following the kick to beat the Titans. “But when the pressure’s on, he’ll kick it right through.”

Heading into his senior season of 1989, Dombroski was forced to learn how to kick all over again. The NCAA had outlawed use of the block kickers used as a tee to prop the ball up off the ground about two inches, making kicking field goals and extra points a bit tougher to make.

Despite the rule change, Dombroski was 30 of 32 on PATs and 11 of 12 on field goals. He made seven PATs against Northern Arizona and kicked three field goals against Kent State that year.

After the rule change, Dombroski’s range dropped to about 45 yards.

“I lost a lot of height and distance when they took away the block,” Dombroski said.

During his senior season, following the success he had the year before in last-second attempts and the loss of the tee, Dombroski, described by the Akron Beacon Journal as low key and soft spoken, found himself in the midst of a mini-controversy following a loss to Youngstown State.

With 4:25 reamining in the fourth quarter, Dombroski had tied a school record of 12 consecutive field goals made held by Andy Graham since 1979-80, to give Akron a 17-13 lead.

The Penguins rallied for a touchdown, but the Zips drove down the field, setting up a game-winning field goal attempt.

Freshman Daron Alcorn – not Dombroski – was called upon to attempt a 42-yard field goal as the Zips trailed Youngstown State, 20-17, with but one second on the clock.

Following the game, Faust was quoted by the Beacon Journal as saying: “Why put a guy out there who can’t kick it that far?”

Alcorn’s kick was blocked by Tony Tellington to preserve the Youngstown State victory.

Dombroski backed his teammate following the loss.

“Sure, I wanted to be out there,” he told the Beacon Journal. “But there was nothing I could do about it. I just feel bad about it for Daron, being put in a situation like that. He’ll get another chance and he’ll come through next time.”

It didn’t change the fact Dombroski would have liked to take the kick himself.

“I was put in that situation twice last year and came through,” he told the Beacon Journal. “It brought back memories of last year. I just wish we could have gotten it a little closer so I could have gone out there and done it again.”

Prior to the ’89 season, Faust had stated Dombroski would be his kicker from 42 yards and in. Later, he moved that figure in to 37 yards. Before the change in rules, Dombroski had made six kicks from 46 yards out and further.

“I think my range is probably a little closer to 42, but that’s probably my limit,” Dombroski told the Beacon Journal. “I’ve been consistent kicking from 37, though, and that’s the way Coach feels about it. Daron has the stronger leg and I can’t question sending him out there. But I think I can kick farther than 37 yards.”

While with the Zips, Dombroski crossed paths with a future NFL great.

“My senior year, we were playing Louisiana Tech,” he said. “Somebody said their kicker was a good one. It was Matt Stover (who went on to star with the Cleveland Browns and Baltimore Ravens). We beat them 49-0 and he never got to kick. Here he ended up being a kicker in the NFL for something like 20 years.”

Dombroski missed his next attempt and remained tied for the school record for consecutive field goals with Graham.

“I had no idea how many I had made at the end of last year,” Dombroski said after he tied the record. “But I should be making them all this year because they’re all chip shots.”

When the Beacon Journal asked if he’d be under any pressure when he attempted to break the record, Dombroski was confident in his answer.

“I don’t think so,” he said. “I’ve been put in situations that are a little tougher than that. I’m not going to think about it. I’m just worried about I’ve got to do out there, just making sure I do the same thing on every kick.”

Dombroski established himself as the greatest kicker in Akron history over the course of his four years. He was elected to the Akron Sports Hall of Fame on Nov. 3, 2006. As of that day, Dombroski still held the Akron school records for career points (253), career field goals made (51), career extra points (100), season field-goal percentage (.917), career field-goal percentage (.739, 51-69), career PAT percentage (.962, 100-104) and consecutive field goals made (12).

Dombroski never pursued a tryout with an NFL team.

“My last kick was the last kick I made my senior season,” Dombroski said. “Without the tee, there was just no way I could make it. I understand where I was.”

There are no regrets for Dombroski, though.

“I haven’t kicked a ball since that last game,” he said. “I can honestly say I don’t miss kicking. It’s not that I gave up. I never have and I never will. I just knew it wasn’t going to happen, even with hard work and practice.”

These days, Dombroski is the vice president of Morton Distributing, which owns Broad Street Beverage and Quizno’s in Conneaut.  

Ettinger is a freelance writer from Ashtabula.

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