Jack Luckhurst had to be talked into playing football when he arrived at Bishop Diego High School in the autumn of 2015.
“I’d never played the game,” he said, explaining his apprehension before his freshman season with the Cardinals. “I wanted to play other sports, I wasn’t big, and I didn’t really want to be tackling and hitting people.”
Five years later, he was recognized as one of California’s best high school football kickers of his era by being named Second-Team All-Decade by Cal-Hi Sports.
“It’s a pretty amazing accomplishment when you think about how few individuals from this county have ever been selected,” Bishop coach Tom Crawford said. “And of course, you can recognize a lot of names of the guys who are with him on that team.
“But in all honesty, this has made me reflect on what a phenomenal, four-year career Jack had for us — almost to the point where we took for granted what a weapon he was in not just punting, but in kickoffs and field goals and everything else.”
In four seasons, Luckhurst converted 212 extra-point kicks and 15 field goals, with the longest traveling 51 yards. His career punting average of 44.6 yards included a boot of 83 yards, and 66 of his kickoffs were unreturnable touchbacks during his last two seasons. He is now on scholarship at Arizona State, having sat out last fall as a redshirt.
And yet, the email announcing his Cal-Hi award left him bewildered.
“I didn’t know exactly what it was,” said Luckhurst, who returned home after the COVID-19 pandemic had forced ASU to end its spring workouts. “I looked it up and saw names like JuJu Smith (Pittsburgh Steelers) and Jared Goff (Los Angeles Rams) and all these other guys on the list.
“I was almost confused, going, ‘What? Hold on!’ It was definitely a shock. I’ll never forget that moment.”
It was a shock when he found himself kicking off at SBCC’s La Playa Stadium on Aug. 28, 2015. Bishop assistant coach John Hazelton had invited him onto the team only a week or two earlier. Luckhurst wound up making a pair of extra points in a 14-9 win over Righetti.
A week later, he kicked a 40-yard field goal at Santa Fe Christian to help the Cardinals pull out a 29-21 victory. They won 12 straight games before losing in the semifinals of the CIF-Southern Section playoffs to Camarillo, the eventual champion.
“That’s where it all started,” he said.
Luckhurst ended up becoming only the fifth Santa Barbara County player to ever make Cal-Hi’s All-Decade team. The others were Santa Barbara High’s Ernie Zampese (1950s) and Sam Cunningham (1960s), St. Joseph’s Mark Brunell (1980s), and Lompoc’s Napoleon Kaufman (1990s). They all played in the NFL.
Hazelton had recognized the Luckhurst name just before the start of the 2015-16 school year. Jack, an accomplished club soccer player, was the eldest son of Mick Luckhurst, who had set a club scoring record while kicking for the Atlanta Falcons from 1981 to 1987.
“He said, ‘Your dad played in the NFL, right? You ever try kicking a football?’” Luckhurst recalled. “I said, ‘Not really.’ But he told me to come out to practice, anyway. They really had no one else.”
But the more Luckhurst kicked, the more he aggravated a hip ailment that he first noticed at age 12.
“I was playing three sports, and they were all really hard on my hips,” he said.
Doctors recommended surgery when he was a sophomore but Luckhurst wanted to wait until after what promised to be an epic 2017 season for Bishop.
“That team was so good, all the way around,” he recalled. “I really didn’t go to practice much because I was in so much pain. Coach Crawford told me, ‘Just be ready for Friday nights.’”
Luckhurst wound up making 79-of-82 conversion kicks and 6-of-9 field goals. He also averaged 53.3 yards per punt while dropping 20 of his 35 attempts inside the opponent’s 20-yard line. MaxPreps picked him for its All-America Junior Team while Cal-Hi tabbed him First-Team All-State for Medium Schools.
“To see him gut it out like that and still perform at such a high level was amazing,” Crawford said. “I’m so thrilled with all the recognition he’s gotten.”
Bishop finished that season with a 15-1 record and the CIF-State Division 3AA championship — the first state football title ever won by a Santa Barbara County school. The day after beating Shasta for the championship at Cal Lutheran University, Luckhurst boarded a plane for Colorado to have one of his hip bones shaved and both labrums repaired.
“What a way to celebrate a championship,” Luckhurst observed wryly. “But it really was the best thing I could’ve done for my hips. They feel 10 times better now.”
He transformed his body tremendously from the 5-foot-11, 150-pound freshman that Hazelton coaxed onto the football field. He’s now nearly 6-4 and 182 pounds after a year of weight training at ASU. His field-goal range is up to 60 yards.
“Being in a Division 1 atmosphere and in the weight room with all those guys, it’s just different,” he said. “The redshirt year really helped me get into the rhythm of things.”
Although ASU still works him out as a punter, he’s focused on winning the job as the team’s place-kicker. His main competition is redshirt sophomore Christian Zendejas, who converted 23 of 27 field-goal attempts last year. His longest kick was 43 yards.
“Obviously I don’t know what the special-teams coach is thinking, but all the kickers are going into next season with the idea that whomever earns the spot will be the starting kicker,” Luckhurst said.
His brother Adam, who served as the kicker on last year’s Bishop football team, will be playing soccer next year at Davidson University. Michael, the youngest Luckhurst, will be a junior on next year’s Cardinal team. He started at defensive back last season while also taking over at quarterback when Buddy Melgoza injured his knee.
“Michael’s really excited about the team they’re going to have this year,” Jack said.
He hopes to get his kicks at ASU, as well. Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott has given conference schools the go-ahead to reopen their athletic facilities beginning June 15.
“I’m not sure yet when we’re starting, it all depends on when Arizona State wants us back,” Luckhurst said. “I’ll be enjoying this nice weather before I head back out to 100 degrees.”
That’s when the competition for the kicking job figures to heat up, as well.