ITP Glossary: Kickoff

Football is littered with specialized terminology. From 21 offensive personnel to off man technique, commentators rarely get to explain everything you need to know before the next play. Inside The Pylon’s glossary was developed to give fans a deeper understanding of the game through clear explanations, as well as image and video examples. Please contact us with any terms or phrases you’d like to know more about.


A kickoff occurs to start play for the first or second half, as well as after any scoring play. Both NFL and college football kickoffs take place from the 35-yard line, and the kick must travel at least 10 yards to be legal. The kicker is allowed to strike the ball once, and no player on the kicking team may cross the line of scrimmage prior to the kick. For the majority of kickoffs, the goal of the kicking team is to pin the return team deep in their own territory. However, there are also three special situations in which kickers will not strike the ball with this intention –€“ onside kicks, squib kicks, and pooch kicks.


Kickers are allowed to place the ball at any location between the hash marks on a one-inch tee:DolphinsKick1

Here, the Miami Dolphins align in 5X5 kickoff formation, with five players on either side of the kicker. All players other than the kicker must be within five yards of the line of scrimmage prior to the kick, limiting their downfield momentum in order to reduce injuries on kickoffs. The ball is on the 35-yard line, just inside the left hash. Miami kicker Caleb Sturgis runs up to kick the ball deep to C.J. Spiller:DolphinsKick2

Spiller receives the ball in his end zone and brings it out. Many kicks into the end zone typically result in touchbacks, which allow the receiving team to begin the drive on their own 20-yard line. However, Spiller’€™s decision to bring the ball out pays off in this instance, with the play resulting in a 102-yard return for a touchdown.

At the college level, the mechanics are largely the same, though a touchback is placed at the 25-yard line:


In the above still, the Villanova Wildcats set up to kickoff. As in the NFL, the kicker must place the ball between the hash marks, with players other than the kicker lined up no more than five yards from the line of scrimmage.

There is one unique penalty on kickoffs, which occurs when the kick goes out of bounds without touching a member of the opposing team first. In this case, the receiving team is awarded the ball at their own 35-yard line.

Chuck Zodda contributed to this entry.

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Inside The Pylon covers the NFL and college football, reviewing the film, breaking down matchups, and looking at the issues, on and off the field.

All video and images courtesy NFL Game Pass and the author’s personal collection.

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