A kickoff in football consists of one team kicking the ball to their opponents who then return the ball until they are tackled, travel out of bounds, or score a touchdown. Kickoffs happen after each score, the start of each half and the beginning of overtime.
Determining who kicks off
Before a kickoff occurs to start a football game the kicking team is first determined via coin toss. The coin toss will determine who receives the ball in the first and who receives the ball in the second half.
Regardless of how the coin toss unfolds each team will receive one kickoff to start a half and will kick the ball to start the other half.
What does a kickoff look like?
On a kickoff, the kicking team is going to line up at their thirty five-yard line. The kicker will line up in the middle of the formation with five players on either side.
The five players will be on the scrimmage while the kicker will be a few steps back so he can get a running start to his kick. On this play the kicker will kick off a plastic tee making it easier to hit the ball further.
The receiving team will have one or two kickoff returners placed inside their endzone ready to catch ball.
In front of the kick returners will be several blockers, there will be another set of blockers ten yards back from the line of scrimmage which will block any kicking team players that come their way.
Once the ball is kicked the players on the kicking team will begin to run down the field. The first set of blockers will engage players with the intention of slowing them down.
Once the kick returner catches the ball he will advance the ball up the field with help from his blockers. Wherever the ball carrier is tackled or travels out of bounds is where the receiving team will start their drive.
Ideally, the kick returner wants to carry the ball past the twenty-five-yard line. This is because the twenty-five-yard line is where a team will start with a ball if a touchback occurs.
The touchback is an important rule for kickoffs because it happens in the majority of these plays.
A touchback in football occurs if a player is downed behind the goal line. If a kick travels through the back of the endzone, a kick returner gives themself up or is tackled in the endzone it will result in a touchback.
When a touchback occurs on a kickoff the team will start with the ball at the twenty-five-yard line.
Taking a touchback as the return teams means you will not have a shot at a big return but you will start twenty-five yards out from your endzone.
On kickoffs, the kick returner will look at the players coming downfield and determine whether or not they believe they can get past the 25-yard line.
If they believe they can they will take the ball out of the endzone. If they believe they will be tackled short of the 25-yard line the kick returner will take a knee in the endzone for a touchback.
The onside kick
On top of a regular kickoff teams also have the option to perform an onside kick. An onside kick in football is a play in which the kicking team attempts to recover their own kick.
In order to recover a team’s onside kick, they need to let it travel ten yards past the line of scrimmage before recovering it.
If they are able to recover it the kicking team will maintain possession of the ball.
If they do not recover it the opposing team will get possession of the ball at the spot they are downed. This means they will start roughly forty yards closer to the endzone than they would have on a touchback.
This makes onside kicks incredibly risky. For this reason, onside kicks are only attempted when a team is desperate to score points, typically later in a game.