Sugar-Salem senior place kicker Sunny Bennion poses for a photo after helping the Diggers' beat Shelley Friday in her first game with the Diggers

Sugar-Salem senior place kicker Sunny Bennion poses for a photo after helping the Diggers’ beat Shelley Friday in her first game with the Diggers

Sugar-Salem senior kicker Sunny Bennion takes her talent from the soccer field to the football field.

Sunny Bennion takes over kicking duties at Sugar-Salem

Sugar-Salem senior Sunny Bennion impressed in her first game as Sugar-Salem’s starting kicker last Friday but that night was far from the start of her kicking journey.

Bennion has been Digger football adjacent since her family moved to the area more than six years ago when her father, Dan, was hired to coach at Sugar-Salem. Currently, Dan coordinates the Digger football team’s defense and her brothers, Wolf and Browning, played football before graduating in spring 2018 and 2020 respectively.

“Sunny’s always been kind of around football,” said Sugar-Salem head coach Tyler Richins. “Both of her brothers have played for me and her dad coaches for me. In a lot of ways, she has always been a part of the family.”

Bennion has been a three-sport athlete since moving to Sugar; football makes her a four-sport athlete. Most applicably, Bennion has played a large role on the Diggers’ girls soccer team for the last four years where she’s developed an ability to kick a ball far with accuracy.

“I’ve just always been a big kicker when we have free-kicks and stuff like that,” she said. “I’ve just always had a big leg for that.”

Bennion started to develop her football kicking as a freshman. Luckily, for Sunny, she was given many opportunities to kick as her older brother Browning was the Diggers’ long snapper from Sunny’s freshman year until he graduated.

“I’ve always known Sunny could kick really well,” Richins said. “She’s gotten opportunities. I think she’ll have some opportunities after high school to play soccer. I’ve known for the last couple of years that Sunny could kick the football just because I’ve seen her out messing around on the football field with her dad and brothers.”

Sunny has wanted to get on the gridiron with boys she grew up with for years. When Crew Clark broke his collarbone in Sugar-Salem’s opener on August 28, the Diggers suddenly were in desperate need of a kicker.

“I’ve always had the thought since I was a freshman of being the kicker but our team has always had such great kickers,” Bennion said. “When Crew got hurt coach Richins reached out to me and asked me if I wanted to try it out.”

Richins said the inspiration to reach out to Sunny struck Monday morning when he and Dan Bennion were kicking around a few ideas for the football team including inviting Sunny to officially join the team.

Richins reached out to Sunny and by the team’s afternoon practice, Bennion was out kicking.

“I told Sunny I wasn’t going to have her kick unless she was the best,” Richins said. “That was the idea. I’m not putting her there to kick just to put her there to kick. I’m putting her there because she’s our best option right now at that position. She understood that and she kind of bought into that idea.”

Bennion’s far from the first soccer player to kick for the Diggers football team. Last season, Rylan Bean shared kicking duties with Clark and two years before that, Luke Terry held the Diggers starting kicker spot.

Soccer player or not, seeing a girl on the field in football pads surprised the Digger players.

“I think it was a little bit of a shocker to the team,” Richins said. “We didn’t really talk to them about it (beforehand). We just did it. It didn’t take them long to really embrace it because she’s obviously a part of the family anyway, but she can do her job and she can do it well. It took only a couple kicks for everybody to be on board with the idea that she could contribute in a positive way to our program.”

Coaches gave Bennion a few kicks in the junior varsity game before Friday’s varsity game to help her get acclimated to the pressure of kicking in a live game.

Bennion came away from Friday’s game with a positive review of her experience after hitting 3 of 3 extra points and a 25-yard field goal.

“I’ve always wanted to (get on the football field),” Bennion said. “It’s super fun to get in the culture of football. I’ve always been around it. It’s fun to be part of that.”

Richins was also impressed with Bennion’s effort.

“It was awesome,” Bennion said. “Anytime we have a kicker who can consistently hit field goals and PAT’s we are extremely excited about that because it’s just guaranteed points.”

Richins isn’t surprised by how well Bennion has fit in on the team.

“She’s such a hard-working kid,” Richins said. “She’s very committed to the weight room. She’s very committed to the similar things we try and instill in our players on our football team. Sunny’s been involved in or around our football program a ton — she knows how we operate.”