What is a kickoff in football?

Most football fans know the game starts with the ball being kicked. But many do not know the rules of a kickoff in football.

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.

This article is going to explain how kickoffs work as well as breakdown different types of kickoffs like the onside kick or the squib kick.

Determining who kicks off

Coin toss to determine 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. In 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 in open play touchback in football occurs if a player is downed behind the goal line.

On kickoffs, touchbacks happen when a kick travels through the back of the endzone, if the kick returner gives themself up or is tackled in the endzone.

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 team 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

kicker performing a kickoff in football

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 thirty 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.

To learn more about kickoffs in football check our articles on what is a free kick in football or what is a kick return in football.

What is a Squib Kick in Football?

A squib kick in football is a type of kickoff that flys lower and shorter than a traditional kickoff. These kicks are often aimed to land in the areas of the field which there are no kick returners.

This strategy forces the return team to scoop the loose ball off the turf lowering the chance of a big return and helping to kill additional time off the clock.

How Far Does A Squib Kick Travel?

Player catching a squib kick kickoff in a football game

Typically you want a squib kick to land in between the first lines of blockers and the kick returners waiting near the end zone. 

This means you typically want to kick your squib so that it lands between your opponent’s 40-20 yard line.

This area is often a soft spot in the kick return coverage. Meaning if you kick it into this area it will likely bounce before a player can catch it. 

Kicks start from their own 35-yard line in most football leagues. This means you want to kick your squib 25-45 yards in the air.

This distance should land you past the blockers yet in front of the returners. 

Keep a mind squib kicks often bounce so if it does in fact hit the ground it should travel even further than 25-45 yards.

What is a squib kick used for?

Squib kicks are relatively rare in football. This is because they can be advantageous in certain situations. Here are a few cases in which your team may want to squib their next kick.

No Big Returns

One of the biggest factors in a squib kick is that it limits a big return. With these kicks you will often find the ball does not end up in the hands of the kick returner.

The short flight of the ball often finds its way into the hands of a player that doesn’t often return kicks. 

By the time a return team player is able to scoop up the ball after the bounce, the kickoff team has usually made their way down the field for the tackle.

This greatly decreases the odds that this player is going to be able to create a big return out of the kickoff.

It should be noted that this kick will often give up decent field position. Squib kicks do not travel as far as traditional kickoffs.

This makes it difficult for the return team to bust off a big return. But since the ball lands so far up the field these kicks usually result in decent field position for the return team.

This is why squib kicks tend to be used rather sparingly.

Eat The Clock

Another great benefit of squib kicks is that they can kill some time off the clock. If you have ever seen Tom Brady with a few seconds left in the half you can understand why it can be helpful to kill that time. 

If there are only a few seconds left in the half or game then a squib kick can come in handy.

When a player returns a regular kickoff he can waive for a fair catch that will stop the clock. 

Though once the ball bounces the players no longer have this option. This means if you are able to bounce your squib before it is caught you can guarantee some time off of the clock.

Though in order for this to work the ball must stay in bounds and short of the endzone. It is for this reason you often see squibs near the ends of a half.

Is A Squib An Onside Kick?

Though a squib kick can be recovered it is not an onside kick. An onside kick occurs when a kicker intentionally kicks the ball short in order to recover possession. The main purpose of a squib kick is to limit returns and eat up some clock. 

If a team were to intentionally try to kick an onside kick they would not kick the ball as far as you would a squib.

On some occasions, a team may struggle to pick up a squid kick which could potentially lead to the kicking team recovering the ball, though this is quite rare.

Why Is It Called A Squib Kick?

The is no official reason for the naming of this kick that we know of, but it may be related to the original definition of the term squib.

The term squib refers to a short piece of satirical writing. In other words, something that is short and humorous.  We cannot say for sure that this is the origin of the name but it seems to fit the bill.


That is all on kickoffs in football. Remember a kickoff is a change of possession that occurs after each half, the beginning of overtime or after a team scores.

Kickoffs determine where a team is going to start with the ball for their next drive.

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