Former PSU kicker signs for his second stint with AFL team

TRIBUNE PHOTO: JOHN LARIVIERE - Zach Ramirez of the Portland Thunder follows the flight of one of his extra-point kicks during last weeks Arena Football League game against Tampa Bay.Kickers have to be ready when called upon — whether they’re in uniform or under contract or not.

Last week, former Portland State kicker Zach Ramirez was a free agent, living in Salem, working his labor contracting day job and training for another shot at making an NFL roster.

His phone rang, and it was Terry Emmert, owner of the Arena Football League’s Portland Thunder. The Thunder’s kicker in their March 27 season opener, Brady Beeson, had just left the team. “We need you,” Emmert told Ramirez.

On Thursday night, Ramirez signed on for his second stint with the Thunder (he played a handful of games for Emmert’s club in 2014).

By Friday night — and without a chance to practice with his new 2015 teammates — the 25-year-old McNary High grad was in a Thunder uniform and on the field at Moda Center as Portland took on the Tampa Bay Storm. Ramirez kicked off and made 6 of 7 PATs in a 54-48 loss.

“It’s a little different, for sure,” Ramirez says of kicking in Arena Football compared to outdoor football.

On outdoor kickoffs, for instance, he starts nine yards behind the ball and takes a nine-step approach. Indoors, he has less room, and has to take a six-step approach. Then he wants to kick the ball high and far — but not too high. If he gave it everything, “I’d hit the Jumbo Tron, and that’s a penalty,” he says.

The rules and timing on place kicks is quite different as well — he goes a lot slower on PATs than in the NFL, where everything has to happen fast to prevent a block.

Ramirez will be kicking for the Thunder tonight when they play host to the Spokane Shock (7 p.m., Moda Center). How long he’ll stay in the AFL remains to be seen, because NFL teams may want him to come work out or try out. The Green Bay Packers contacted him a few weeks ago, “and they want me back” for another look, he says.

The Canadian Football League could be an option as well, although the CFL probably would be appealing to him only if they can offer guaranteed money, Ramirez says.

Thunder coach Mike Hohensee wasn’t happy with Beeson’s kickoffs in the opening night victory over the Los Angeles KISS. After that game, Beeson “went to a tryout in San Diego and decided he didn’t want to come back,” Hohensee says. “We didn’t find that out till late Wednesday, and that put us in a bind. We were fortunate that Zach was in town. I thought he did a pretty good job for not having been with us. And I feel good because he’ll work at his craft and get better at it.”

• Beeson went back with his former team, the Tri-Cities Fever of the Indoor Football League.

• In the third quarter against Tampa Bay, a Ramirez kickoff resulted in a direct touchdown by the Thunder. His kick bounced off the metal frame in the back of the end zone and eluded both deep men for the Storm. The ball bounced up in the air and went straight to one of Portland’s onrushing cover guys, Osagie Odiase, a defensive back from Sacramento State. Odiase plucked the ball above his head and took two untouched steps into the end zone for an easy six points — on his first-ever kickoff in Arena Football.

“The coaches said to just hustle down the field and if you do, something good might happen,” Odiase says. “So I just ran fast. I saw the ball bounce off the turf and just thought, ‘Go get it.’ I’ve played a little baseball, so it was like a shortstop grabbing a pop-up, only at high speed.”

Odiase, who didn’t play against the KISS, got into his first AFL game because his roommate, Matt Pierce, broke a hand against L.A.

And the touchdown by Odiase surprised Ramirez, who wasn’t sure what the rule was on a play like that. “I thought when he touched the ball it would be ruled down at that point,” Ramirez says.

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