RIFLE, Colorado - About an hour before last Saturday's Class 3A football state semifinal against Pueblo East, Rifle High School kicker Marco Gutierrez put on a display for the early-arriving fans at historic Dutch Clark Stadium in Pueblo.
Repeatedly teeing up the ball at the 50-yard line, the senior unloaded on the football time and time again. In most every case, Gutierrez sent it sailing through the uprights 60 yards away and onto the track behind them.
The power and accuracy behind those majestic shots are appreciated by perhaps no one more than Rifle head football coach Damon Wells.
"I'm glad he goes to Rifle High School," the Bears' veteran frontman said with a smile at Dutch Clark on Saturday.
It's rare to see a kicker of Gutierrez's caliber at the high school level, and Wells knows it.
"Sometimes, as a high school football coach, you watch football on TV and it's easy to forget, as a fan, how different the game in high school is," he said. "When you get inside the 25 or 30 in high school football, at most places that doesn't mean anything. It just means you might go for it. It does allow you to change the way you might call things, knowing that you're going to have an opportunity to score some points no matter what."
With an explosive offense that's averaging 44.5 points a game, Rifle hasn't had to settle for three points all that often in 2012.
The Bears did call on No. 17 in a 2011 game against Battle Mountain, though. With six seconds left and his team down two points, Gutierrez blasted a 45-yard field goal that lifted Rifle to a 22-21 win.
That moment rates as his football favorite.
"I'll always remember last year, winning that game against Battle Mountain," Gutierrez said. "I was just scared Wells was going to beat my butt. I was like, 'You better make it.'"
Gutierrez was discovered on the soccer pitch by former Rifle assistant football coach Adam Archibeque.
"It was during the summer, during soccer workouts," Gutierrez recalled. "He asked if I wanted to kick. I just came up during the summer and then we just tried field goals and stuff like that. I kind of liked it, so I just stuck with it."
He joined the football team his sophomore year, and has juggled playing both soccer and football ever since. He was the captain of the soccer team this fall.
Rifle boys soccer coach Rich Carter isn't surprised by the goofy senior's success on the gridiron.
"He's just a natural at kicking the ball," Carter said. "We bring in the radar gun every once in a while. He always has the fastest speed. He's gotten up to 69 or 70 miles per hour."
Soccer season ended more than a month ago, allowing Gutierrez to focus solely on football, a sport he's grown to love.
"When I first started, it was just another thing to help me get through high school," he said. "Now, I actually care about it."
And a future kicking footballs in college may await Gutierrez, who has booted 67 extra points, five field goals and has 27 touchbacks in 2012. He's starting to receive interest from recruiters.
He'll certainly have a big stage on which to kick in this weekend's Class 3A title game, in which Gutierrez and the top-seeded Bears (13-0) will square off against No. 10 Silver Creek (11-2) at Legacy Stadium in Aurora.
Facing a team like Silver Creek, which is making its second straight appearance in the title game, the Bears might just need Gutierrez's leg in a clutch situation.
"They're incredibly talented," Wells said of Rifle's state title game foe. "They'll definitely be the best team we've played so far this season."