CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Arena football is played with fewer players on a shorter field, but fewer players also means fewer roster spots.

Erik Amaya is thankful that "kicker" is one that he can fill for the Charlotte Thunder, and his presence is appreciated.

“Erik is the most loved player on our team," says head coach Ervin Bryson. "For that to be the kicker, the most loved player on the team? That’s awesome.”

While Bryson sings the praises of the Kannapolis native, it gets tough to show that appreciation during practice.

The linemen work on their drills, defensive backs and linebackers in another area, even the offense works on passing combinations, often all at the same time. Amaya has to work off to the side, waiting for a chance to run onto the field and get in whatever kicks he can. 

A smaller field means fewer opportunities in practice

“When it comes to arena, I have to pick every little spot to have at least one touch on the ball," Amaya says. "I try to find any kind of way to keep the rhythm going with the muscle memory, so I can transfer that into the field.”

Practices are a lonely time for the only kicker on the roster. Amaya will kick a couple across the short side of the field and go retrieve the footballs. Lather. Rinse. Repeat.

“Even in high school, there were only two of us, a kicker and a punter. Even then, it’s still kinda lonely. We only have to just kick a ball. Here it’s even lonelier, because I'm just one guy," Amaya says.

Still, his efforts and dedication are apparent. It's the reason he is on the Thunder roster

“He’s in his own world. He’s in a zone before every ball game," Bryson says. "Nobody bothers him. Everybody lets him come out here and do his thing, and when he comes, he comes to work. He wants to be a part of the team."

Bryson continues, "Sometimes he feels left out, but everybody loves Erik. His energy is good, he’s a great kid. I’m just praying he continues to do well, and he gets an opportunity on the next level."