Head over heels

Jeremy Peters
East High's Jeffrey DeBrill does a forward flip as he throws the ball in during a match against South at Anchorage Football Stadium on May 12. BOB HALLINEN / Anchorage Daily News

When East senior Jeffrey DeBrill gathers the soccer ball for a throw-in, he skips backward several feet, so he can get a running start. He charges forward and plunges head first toward the ground with only the soccer ball between his head and the turf.

Holding the soccer ball with both hands and using it simultaneously as a support and a propulsion device, he does a full front flip. His cleats rotate over his head and plant hard back on to the ground with his upper body lagging behind, then snapping violently forward.

"It's like a sling shot," said DeBrill.

As his body returns to an upright position, using both hands, he flings the soccer ball from behind his head, slinging it nearly twice as far as he could with a standing throw.

DeBrill makes his 40-yard heave look easy, but said it took him lots of practice, a process of trial and error that began when he was 12.

He saw another soccer player use a flip throw-in during a recreation-league match and decided to teach himself the trick.

"I actually had to go to the hospital once after landing on my head," said DeBrill. "I think it's better to have someone teach you."

After years of working on his technique, he finally pulled off the flip throw-in one day while goofing around in the gym at school.

When he attempted it for the first time in a soccer match, he didn't even know if it was legal, but the referee didn't blow the whistle, so he kept using it.

A throw-in takes place any time the ball goes out of bounds on a sideline. The team that last touched the ball forfeits possession, and the opposing team is granted a throw-in, giving it possession.

The throw-in is often mundane, but DeBrill adds an acrobatic flair to it, and it's not just for style points.

DeBrill scored a goal on a throw-in when he was a junior. He said the goalie should have easily caught the ball, but somehow it slipped through the goalie's hands and across the goal line.

Had the goalie not touched the ball, the goal wouldn't count, because it's against the rules of soccer to throw the ball directly in the goal.

The rare feat of scoring via the throw-in was accomplished more recently by Colony senior Logan Smith, who uses the traditional flat-footed throw-in -- by rule, a player must have both feet on the ground when he releases the ball. In April, Smith threw the ball from near midfield during a match against West. The goalie tried to swipe at the ball going over his head, but it bounced off his hand for a score.

Smith claims his longest measured throw to be 53 yards and said a youth spent training as a gymnast and a swimmer gave him extremely flexible shoulders, allowing him to generate tremendous power.

He admits to having fun with his amazing throwing ability.

"I like the comments everyone says; kids on the other teams saying 'Wow, I can't believe he can throw it that far,' parents coming up to me after the games telling me to teach their kids how to throw."

Fun and games aside, Smith's ability is a weapon that plays a significant part in Colony's unbeaten record this season, significant enough that Colony coach Jeremy Johnson goes over throw-in strategy with Smith before every match.

"We like to take advantage just like any corner (kick)," Smith said. "You get a lot more throw-ins than fouls."

When the goal is within range, Smith throws the ball toward the short goalies and away from the tall goalies.

By throwing toward the short goalies, he gives his taller teammates a chance to out-jump the goalie and head the ball in the net. When throwing away from the tall goalies he tries to give teammates some space to run the ball down and attack.

Such plays against the goalie are designed for throws inside the opponent's half of the field, but Smith's unique ability is equally effective from his team's half of the field.

Usually when a team has a throw-in from its own half of the pitch, the thought changes from aggression to possession. The objective becomes getting the ball to a teammate quickly so they can then clear the ball down field with a kick.

In Smith's case, he can skip the part about quickly finding a nearby teammate, throwing the ball as far as he can and clearing it immediately.

Because there is no offside rule on throw-ins, Smith said he often catches defenders off guard when he throws the ball over their heads to teammates streaking 50 yards down the sidelines, a tactic that has resulted in goals numerous times.

Once his throwing power has been revealed, Smith said defenders start backing way up on the ensuing throw-ins. That is fine with Smith, because their precaution always leaves four or five unguarded teammates nearby, guaranteeing possession for Colony.

South girls coach Brian Farrell said gaining possession is the true goal of every throw-in. "It (throw-in) should be automatic possession," he said.

A soccer team will perform throw-ins an average of 26 times in a match, but Mark Cascolan, coach of the top-ranked Service girls soccer team, wishes his team could avoid them altogether.

"The throw-in is a formality," he said. "Our strength is the ball at my girls' feet."

Cascolan admits set plays are possible and could be effective from 18 yards and in, but he doesn't set aside practice time for such plays.

Bartlett boys soccer coach Joe Bradsky is a believer in the power of a good throw-in, having witnessed it first hand when he was in high school.

Bradsky told of a 6-foot-2 soccer player that used the front flip throw-in during his days at Central Baptist Christian Academy in New York: a gymnast who could perform the flip with ease, the player's long throw-ins led directly to six goals one season and were instrumental in leading the team to the regional tournament.

Find Jeremy Peters online at adn.com/contact/jpeters or call 257-4335.

Video: Somersault flip throw-in