49ers

Richie James ready to follow George Kittle's lead, focus on his craft

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USATSI

Richie James ready to follow George Kittle's lead, focus on his craft

SANTA CLARA - Richie James Jr. can’t wait to start his offseason program so he can focus on developing his craft. The 49ers rookie wide receiver saw how it helped George Kittle succeed in his second year, and he plans to follow the tight end’s lead.

Preparing for the draft is not the same as preparing for a season in the NFL. Training for NFL Combine tests like the bench press and the 40-yard dash isn’t something that transfers into on-field production. James is excited for his full offseason to really develop his game.

“It’s actually a dream come true to be honest with you,” James said. “You’re not focused on what you’ve dreamed of doing, You can focus on your craft. I don’t have school, I can literally just think about football.” 

Kittle was very vocal when asked what contributed to his jump in production that led to an AP All-Pro second team nod in his second year. He credited being able to work on the small things that would improve his play while on the field, instead of preparing for pro-days and the NFL Combine.

“If you look at George between last year and this year,” James said, “you will see a difference. That’s because he got comfortable, and that’s all you need. Once you get a player comfortable in the system, that’s when they feel like they can do everything.” 

James also notes that getting his rookie season under his belt has helped him a great deal. Now he knows what to expect. 

“I love that I got my first year over with,” James said. “And I got experience and I got my feet wet. There are so many things I know I can work on, and I’m really proud that I can recognize that. I can’t wait." 

One of the things that James said he did learn during his rookie year is to have a short memory. James muffed a punt that resulted in a Seahawks touchdown in the team’s blow out loss in Week 13. Two weeks later he bounced back and returned a punt for 97 yards when facing Seattle for the second time. 

“It’s really hard to have a short memory,” James said. “You think about it, you’re putting yourself in the same situation, seeing the same thing. That’s a mental thing. I know I can catch punts. That’s a thing I can say I learned from. And then I made up for it.” 

One thing that James is not afraid to do is put in work. He didn’t take a break from football in college and doesn’t plan on lessening his dedication to it now that he’s in the NFL. 

“In college I had the chance to go home during the breaks but I stayed at school,” James said. “I stayed for my last three years. I love being creative during the long time off to actually do stuff. I can’t wait. This is going to be fun.” 

“I’m that type of player that once I get comfortable in the system, I’m going to show my best.”

49ers legend Steve Young presents Gatorade Player of the Year Award winner

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Gatorade

49ers legend Steve Young presents Gatorade Player of the Year Award winner

Sophie Jones runs the soccer field, both literally and figuratively. 

She tallied 18 goals, 16 assists and 1.55 points per game for the Knights of Menlo School in Atherton, Calif. Those stats helped lift her team to a 20-win season, which turned into a Central Coast Section Division 1 tournament title.

With those achievements, Jones walked away with the Gatorade National Girls Soccer Player of the Year honor Wednesday. 

A friend presented the senior with the trophy -- but not just any friend: 49ers Hall of Fame quarterback Steve Young.

"It's such an honor, and I can't believe they chose me," Jones said in Gatorade's promotional presentation video.

Jones also maintains solid numbers off the field, with a 3.65 GPA that helps her be recruited by some of the nation's top athletic programs. According to Gatorade, she plans to attend Duke later this year.

A "stellar human being with a fierce inner strength," as her teachers describe her, Jones also volunteers for a U-14 youth soccer team and the Boys and Girls Club, and has worked at the Special Olympics Buddy Program. That shows in her playing abilities on the field as well, with her coach saying he's never witnessed such a selfless player.

"Sophie worked tirelessly to elevate her game year after year, becoming high-impact talent," said Chad Konecky, Gatorade Player of the Year director. "She wins balls, finishes, defends, disrupts and creates in transition, and arguably reads the game as well as any U-20 player in the world."

Young complimented Jones, calling the achievement an exciting one -- and one that very few have ever done. 

Congrats, Sophie!

49ers' Mitch Wishnowsky has deep repertoire of punts from Aussie rules days

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AP

49ers' Mitch Wishnowsky has deep repertoire of punts from Aussie rules days

Mitch Wishnowsky admits he could have been more consistent during the 49ers’ recently concluded offseason program.

The rookie punter, at his best, was very good and gave his teammates and coaches a reason to believe a fourth-round draft pick spent on a punter was a worthy investment.

The 49ers selected the native of Australia with the No. 110 overall selection. General manager John Lynch opted to fill the spot vacated when Bradley Pinion signed with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, rather than select a defensive back or an offensive lineman.

Wishnowsky has an assortment of different punts, which he picked up playing a sport in which punters are not considered specialists. Everyone must learn to punt, oftentimes while on the move, in the game Wishnowsky played back home.

“A lot of the punts you sort of learn growing up playing Australian rules football,” Wishnowsky said on the 49ers Insider Podcast. “There’s tradeoffs with every punt.”

Wishnowsky explained his different styles:

“The stock-standard end-over-end punt is a lot more accurate but you can’t get quite as much height or distance on it.

“The spiral, obviously, is the biggest ball. It goes the highest and the furthest.

“The helicopter punt is great, very hard to catch. You can’t kick it quite as far as the spiral. But if you slightly mishit it, it’s going the opposite direction that you want it to.”

Wishnowsky moved to California to punt on the Santa Barbara City College football team in 2014. He transferred to the University of Utah, where he won the 2016 Ray Guy Award and was the only three-time finalist in the history of the award.

The only downside of his final college season was three blocked punts, something he worked to eliminate during his offseason with the 49ers.

“I’ve got to get the ball off in 1.3 seconds, which is what I’ve been doing pretty consistently,” Wishnowsky said. “And the snap is a .7. So if the whole operation is 2 seconds or below, you should be good. Then, also launch point. You want to pretty much as it hits your foot (you’re) directly behind the snapper, so you’re not at risk of getting it blocked.”

[RELATED: Why No. 2 QB job between Beathard and Mullens is toss-up entering camp]

Wishnowsky also will be the 49ers’ holder and, likely, handle kickoff duties. He said he has yet to speak with veteran kicker Robbie Gould, who remains unsigned as the team’s franchise player. Gould has demanded a trade. The 49ers said they will not trade him.

In the meantime, Jonathan Brown, who spent the three previous offseasons with the Cincinnati Bengals and has not appeared in an NFL regular-season game, was the only kicker in Santa Clara.

“The last two years, I’ve been with Matt (Gay), who was drafted to Tampa Bay (in the fifth round),” Wishnowsky said. “I’ve been around great kickers, and Jon is up there. He’s phenomenal the way he contacts the ball. Jon is a very impressive kicker.”