Stephenville head coach Joseph Gillespie believes his team has an ace in the hole, a weapon that often blends into the background but rises to the front of the pack when it matters most.

He believes his Yellow Jackets - ranked No. 8 in 4A by Texas Football Magazine and No. 9 by The Old Coach in a preseason poll released Thursday - have a bona fide kicker.

Blake Barnes was coming off a solid junior season in which he earned honorable-mention all-state accolades from the Texas Sports Writers Association. Not satisfied, the senior who doubles as a soccer standout spent his summer working to improve.

In the process, Barnes saw his name leap up the recruiting charts, reaching as high as No. 37 in the nation and No. 4 in Texas, according to one recruiting service.

"He's going to be a huge weapon," said Gillespie. "With a kicker like Blake, anytime you get to the 30 (yard line) you feel pretty sure you have three points right then. That allows us to be a little more aggressive with our play calling, maybe take a few more chances."

Many high school athletes would feel pressure after hearing such words of from their coach. Not Barnes.

"I don't really feel any pressure, I just think that's my job for the team - to put points on the board," the kicker said.

Barnes was rated as one of the top five overall performers at a Texas A&M kicking camp, earning himself a spot at Kohl's National Invitational Kicking Camp in Wisconsin last month. There, he continued to impress, being rated in the top 15 percent of the 2012 class and top 8 percent of all kickers on kickoffs. His best effort was a 68 yarder with a 4-second hang time. That translates to eight yards deep in the end zone on a standard kickoff from your own 40.

"When you combine his power and accuracy with the ball placement we require on kickoffs, it gives us a chance to do things that will give us a big advantage, especially in terms of field position," Gillespie said.

Barnes says he works on kickoffs even more than field goals.

"The way we do kickoffs here, accuracy is the biggest thing," he said. "Generally, we do a lot of pooch kicks, and that means getting it as high as I can and putting it on a specific yard line."

Barnes was also in the top 17 percent of his class and top 10 percent overall on field goals, with a long of 50 yards. A 55-yard attempt hit the upright and fell away.

Barnes was one of 300 kickers including 167 seniors at the national camp.

"It was a good experience," said Barnes, who is being courted by small colleges hoping to land him as a soccer player but hopes to draw some recruiting attention for his kicking this fall. "It really opened my eyes to see how I stand against some of the really good kickers around the nation."

The senior also continued to work with veteran kicking coach Bob Cervetto, even after the former Stephenville coach and Henderson Junior High principal became athletic director and head football coach in Dublin.

"I worked with Coach Cervetto each Wednesday in the summer," said Barnes. "He's made a big impact on me as a kicker."

Gillespie believes it's time for Barnes - and the team - to reap the fruits of his labor.

"Blake has put in the work and then some," said Gillespie. "He's one of those kids who prove hard work pays off."

For Barnes, the payoff could very well come in the form of a college scholarship.

For the Yellow Jackets, the payoff is an invaluable weapon. One that isn't in the spotlight all the time, but is hanging nearby anytime he's needed.