Football Opening Kickoff

The opening kickoff in football is the first kickoff that initiates the beginning of the game. Before this happens, a coin toss will take place in order to decide which team kicks and which team receives. Captains from both teams meet at centerfield before the game begins to make this decision. In today's NFL, a majority of teams elect to defend first so their team will start the second half on offense.

Getting into Formation

Prior to the opening kickoff the teams must get into formation. The kicker starts by placing the kicking tee at the 35-yard line. At the NFL and collegiate level, players are allowed to use 1-inch tees. At any other level 2-inch tees are allowed. As of the 2018 season, the kicking team must line up at the 34-yard line and may begin play once the ball is kicked. This change was done to prevent serious injuries on opening kickoff, a play where players are especially prone to blindsided hits.

Previously, they were allowed to line up on the 30 and get a running start. In most cases, five players will line up on each side of the kicker while they wait for the referee to blow the inaugural whistle. The kicker will do his best job to kick the ball as close as he can to the opponent's end zone, while also aiming to achieve maximum hang time. The more time the ball is in the air, the longer your team has to get to the ball carrier. If the kicker kicks the ball out of the end zone or the returner takes a knee while in the end zone, then a touchback will be called and the offensive team will begin play at the 25-yard line. This dead ball scenario has become more popular since the kickoff line was moved forward.

Receiving Team

There was also a new set of rules for the receiving team as well. Out of the 11 players, eight of them are required to begin the kickoff in a 15-yard zone near center field. This causes players to actually have to go downfield to make blocks instead of just charging at the kicking team. If the team has an explosive returner, they may opt to return the ball even if it is caught in the end zone. Some of the longest touchdowns in history have come from kickoff plays. Returners like Devin Hester and Josh Cribbs turned kick returning into an art form.