Said Smith, who kicked and punted at his Florida high school: “You use your arms a lot with momentum, to swing your body through the zone. You use them for balance to square up your shoulders to where you want to kick it. A big thing with accuracy is where you shoulders are pointing at the point of the kick.”

Accuracy hasn’t been a problem for Shipps, who has converted 15 of 16 extra-point attempts and 5 of 6 field goals this season. What’s more impressive is the improvement he’s shown on kickoffs, a weakness coming into the season. Bevins has battled injuries all season, as has punter Mike Larsson.

That’s left Shipps as the best option on kickoffs. When he first took over the duty, his kicks rarely went deeper than the opponent’s 15-yard line. In recent weeks, he’s booted balls consistently inside the 10, even inside the 5. Those extra yards provide valuable field position for the Flames’ defense.

“With kickers, a lot of it is confidence,” Liberty special teams coach Chad Wilt said. “Knowing that the coaches believe in you can give you great confidence, that they’re willing to put trust in you. I think Shipps is really gaining confidence in himself right now.”

Shipps made a decision early in life that he wasn’t going to allow his limitations to dictate his life.

“I’m comfortable in my own skin,” he said.

He began playing soccer at age 5, dabbled in basketball and picked up golf. The one finger on his left hand allows him to grip a club, and though he can’t take a full backswing, he can still hit the ball just fine.His grandparents both flew planes and his father Steven has a pilot’s license, so Shipps was drawn to aviation. Shipps now has his pilot’s license and has about 90 flight hours under his belt. He’s part of Liberty’s aviation program and is also studying business management.

“I’ve always been around it,” Shipps said. “My uncle has a plane. I’ve always had a foot in the door, and I just decided to try it for myself.”

His career can wait, though. Shipps still has plenty of business to take care of on the football field. He’ll be an integral part of Liberty’s efforts Saturday against Elon in what might be the most important game in the school’s Division I history. With a victory, the Flames will still have a chance at earning their first-ever Football Championship Subdivision playoff berth.

Shipps isn’t just happy to be a part of the team. He’s a key contributor now, one who has earned the respect of his coaches and teammates.

Said Wilt: “How can you not root for that guy?”

Chris Lang is a sports writer for the Lynchburg News & Advance. Story reprinted with permission. A video about Shipps is also available from the News & Advance.  
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