By JOE FERRARO
Kealakekua’s Jayla Medeiros tabbed Colin Kaepernick as her favorite player because the 49ers quarterback has a throwing motion she can emulate.
“I always see him snap his wrists so he could get a good spiral,’’ Medeiros said.
The Konawaena Elementary School fourth-grader throws some pretty tight spirals herself, and her arm helped her regain the title she had two years ago: Punt Pass & Kick National Finals champion.
The 9-year-old Medeiros won the girls 8-9 age group at Atlanta’s Georgia Dome on Saturday with a total score of 214 feet, 5 inches — news PPK officials made public on Sunday during the Atlanta Falcons’ 30-28 win over the Seattle Seahawks in an NFC divisional playoff game that took place at the same site.
The PPK national finals featured 10 age groups and a total of 40 finalists.
At PPK competitions, participants throw, punt and placekick a football, with distance and accuracy determining overall scores. The national finalists were among more than 4 million athletes who tried to advance through local, sectional and regional competitions.
Medeiros, who earned her spot in the national finals by winning a regional competition the San Diego Chargers hosted at Qualcomm Stadium in December, punted the ball 56-5, passed it 82-5 and kicked it 75-7 to edge runner-up and Green Bay Packers regional champion Alayna Suprenand (204-6) of Fond du Lac, Wis.
Because Suprenand performed better in the punt (64-3) and placekick (81-4), Medeiros thought she had fallen short of winning a national crown. But the announcer at a post-competition ceremony gave her the “news she really wanted.”
“I felt really excited, because I didn’t think I was going to make it,’’ Medeiros said.
Thanks to a strong arm, she did.
Each of the 32 NFL teams hosts a regional competition, with the participants posting the top four overall scores advancing to the national finals.
After winning the girls 6-7 national title in 2011, Medeiros just missed out on making the girls 8-9 national finals last year. As an 8-year-old, she won the San Diego Chargers’ regional championship with a total score of 177-1, but the mark ranked fifth nationally — just 5 feet, 1 inch behind Ohio’s Catherine Rock, who placed fourth.
The disappointment motivated Medeiros to improve.
“When I lost, it was pretty sad because I wanted to go back (to the national finals),’’ she said.
This year, however, Medeiros blew away the rest of the competition at the regional level. She won the San Diego championship with a total score of 241-2 — well ahead of the nation’s second-best score posted by Suprenand (187-3).
Her arm allowed her to distance herself from the rest of the field.
Her pass of 83-3 was 24 feet longer than any other regional competitor and 35 feet better than any of her other three competitors in the national finals.
Medeiros’ father, Jacob, who attended the national finals along with his wife, LaReesa, said most of the athletes at the national finals are strong soccer players.
Jayla Medeiros, who has competed in Pop Warner football, has never played soccer.
“I told her, ‘With your arm, we have to make it happen,’” Jacob Medeiros said.
Jayla Medeiros had posted total scores ranging between 210 and 225 feet at practices and events. After examining the results of all the regional competitions, Jacob Medeiros figured his daughter would win a national title if she put stayed within that range.
However, the elder Medeiros did not take anything for granted going into Atlanta. An untimely lapse or two — PPK participants get two attempts in each of the three disciplines — could kill an overall performance.
“All it takes is one kick or one pass that doesn’t go your way,’’ Jacob Medeiros said. “You still have to be on your game.”
Before the San Diego event, Medeiros won a sectional competition at Hilo’s Panaewa Park and a local competition at Kealakekua’s Kona Scenic Park in November. So did Captain Cook’s Jason Alani, a 10-year-old who won the boys 8-9 national title last year.
Alani won this year’s 10-11 San Diego championship with a score of 289-11. However, like Jayla Medeiros last year, he finished fifth in the nation — a mere 9 inches behind fourth-place finisher and Atlanta Falcons regional champion Will Reichard of Hoover, Ala.
Jayla Medeiros said she plans on making another run at a national title next year. For now, she’s just happy she got her title back.
“It was a big relief,’’ she said.