I don’t always play football, but when I do, I am the punter.
The punt. The most important play in football. Seems laughable to most. Coach Jim Tressel never laughed when he said it. He believed it with all his heart. Field position and turnovers were his keys to winning football games. He always said that it takes “Relentless defense, opportunistic offense, and superior special teams” to win every game. Slack on one, and you leave open the chance for defeat. As usual, Coach Tressel was right. We can argue for days over what is the most important facet of the game, but if one of the three is missing, the team is in trouble. As the focal player on the head coach’s self-proclaimed “most important play,” the pressure is always on. Such is life as a TresselBall punter.
Now, when I say I was the focal point of the most important play, I in no way mean that I was the most important player on the punt team. I mean that I was the most important player on the WHOLE team! Ok, just kidding. What I really meant to say was that everyone looks at the punter on a punt because he is the one who kicks the ball. However, if any other player on the punt team fails to do his job, the punter does not, in fact, get to kick the ball. Every assignment is magnified because failure to complete a task on the punt team usually results in six points the other way. This is why you saw starting linebackers, tight ends, fullbacks, safeties, and corners on a typical Tressel punt team. I even had to do drills with the wide receivers to work on my hands. If a receiver drops a ball, it is second down. If I dropped a ball, it would be a disaster. Thus, Coach said I had to have the best hands on the team. Ahh, the life of a TresselBall punter.
Another thing about punting for the Vest: Do not expect to have a good per punt average! In my year as starting punter, I punted from the 28, 29, 33, 34, and 36 yard lines. It isn’t easy to build a huge average when the best possible punt you can hit is 27 yards. We passed up a game clinching 53 yard field goal attempt in the ‘09 USC game in the Shoe for a punt from the 36. Pete Carroll was even hip to our game, declining a delay of game penalty that would have allowed me more room to pin the ball in deep (the punt was fair caught at the 14, and a little bit of Matt Barkley and Joe McKnight later, the rest was history). Also, Coach Tress wanted to eliminate all returns because “If they can’t return it, they can’t score”. I spent my senior year popping balls up for fair catches and kicking it out of bounds. Sure, I didn’t always do this to perfection, but it also rarely pleased the fans. There’s nothing quite like getting booed off the field at home for simply doing your job! But alas, this is the life of a TresselBall punter.
In the end, the importance Jim Tressel placed on the punt paid dividends for me, and his teams alike. The man won a national championship with a great punter (Andy Groom), a great run game, and a great defense. Something to look for this year will be Ben Buchanan’s ability to correct past problem areas by using his big leg to avoid blocked punts and eliminate returns. Coach Urban Meyer definitely values those aspects as well. If you need proof, his Florida punter Chas Henry led the nation my senior year (2009) in fewest return yards allowed. Meyer is an innovator in the punt game, and Buckeye fans can look forward to solid special teams in the years to come.