Zeli Hayworth went from the local to state and now national punt, pass and kick champion.
Thanks to being ambidextrous, Tomoka Elementary fifth-grader Zeli Hayworth didn’t need his trusted right foot to help him win the 2016 National Punt, Pass and Kick Championship on Sunday, Jan. 29, in Orlando.
After winning the Jacksonville Jaguar Team Competition with 284 feet last month, Zeli went into nationals trailing two others who had totaled 295 feet. With a little over a week to practice kicking with his left leg — he usually throws with his right hand, punts with his left leg but kicks with his right — Zeli increased his kicking distance from 75 to 104 feet. He also totaled 317.10 feet, six feet better than second place and 17 feet better than his previous best.
“It felt amazing,” he said, “like a dream come true. The coolest part was that I broke my own record, even though I was kicking left-footed.”
Zeli went last, but, since he didn’t want the pressure of knowing what he was up against, he blocked his ears from the fans’ reaction and turned his head. After completing his round, he had to wait two hours to find out he had officially won.
Although he didn’t get to meet Tom Brady at the Pro Bowl, Zeli was thrilled to see New York Giants wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. and some of the other stars practice right in front of him.
Get in the game?
Zeli has proven that he throws and kicks longer than all of his peers. He hopes to showcase his skills in tackle football, but his parents strongly oppose until he gets older. But, even if he has to wait until high school for their blessing, Zeli has already begun training to defend his PP&K title at next year’s competition.
To read about Zeli's background about being adopted from an Ethiopian orphanage, click on this previously written article from the Observer: http://www.ormondbeachobserver.com/photo-gallery/xtra-point-zeli-hayworth-goes-from-ethiopia-to-punt-pass-and-kick-national-championship#photo-1