Early within the second quarter of Tennessee‘s on the spot basic with Alabama on Oct. 15, Vol’s quarterback Hendon Hooker fired a cross over the center on third-and-10. Hey hit tight finish Princeton Fant for a 7 yard pickup. However as a result of Tennessee was nonetheless at its personal 32-yard line and three yards shy of a primary down, the teaching employees had just one logical selection.
That set the stage for an unfamiliar scene for this yr’s Vols and their explosive offense.
“It is gonna be a punt for Tennessee. How about that?” CBS analyst Gary Danielson mentioned on the printed.
“First time (at this time),” play-by-play announcer Brad Nessler adopted.
And out trotted Tennessee punter Paxton Brooks.
Brooks, a fifth-year senior, is lucky he’s additionally Tennessee’s holder and kickoff specialist. The Vols lead the nation with 50.1 factors per recreation and are second within the nation behind solely Ohio State with 46 touchdowns. It isn’t like he is not getting enjoying time.
However as a punter — one who was named to the preseason watch checklist for the 2022 Ray Man Award, no much less — issues have been quite, um, quiet on that entrance. After punting 2.3 occasions per recreation in 2019, 4.9 occasions per recreation in 2020 and three.5 occasions per recreation in 2021, Brooks is averaging simply 2.0 punts per recreation in 2022. Solely three groups nationally punt fewer occasions per recreation than the Vols, creating the last word paradoxical for Brooks and punters like him:
What’s it prefer to be the punter of a workforce that just about by no means punts? And the way is a punter speculated to really feel when their workforce’s offensive success comes instantly on the expense of their very own enjoying time?
“Me and (offensive coordinator Alex) Golesh, he has an awesome relationship with me, so we all the time joke round, and he is like, ‘We’re not gonna want you this week,'” Brooks mentioned. “A few weeks in the past, somebody requested coach (Josh) Heupel about punting or one thing, and he mentioned that is turn out to be type of a curse phrase round our constructing.”
Certainly, the Vols do not punt until they need to. Brooks says he even snaps a photograph with Hooker and lengthy snapper Matthew Salanskywherein all three gamers maintain up the quantity “zero” with their arms every time Tennessee goes a full recreation with out a punt.
Washington is experiencing an offensive renaissance below first-year coach Kalen DeBoer. The Huskies are scoring much more touchdowns… and punting quite a bit much less.
“Nicely, on one hand, it is type of irritating as a result of I want to go on the market and do my job,” mentioned Jack McCallister, Washington’s redshirt freshman punter whose workforce’s 1.9 punts per recreation rank one hundred and thirtieth out of 131 FBS groups. “Nevertheless it additionally type of feels good to know that our offense is doing that properly and so I do not really want to go on the market.
“I’d have by no means imagined that final yr would have gone the best way it did after which coach DeBoer would’ve are available and we might have this loopy offense. Nevertheless it occurred, and despite the fact that I am not attending to punt quite a bit, it is nonetheless a super-fun expertise.”
McCallister mentioned he first began to note he may not be wanted a lot on Saturdays when Washington’s offense — which ranks No. 7 nationally — performed Michigan State in Week 3. The Huskies nonetheless punted 3 times, tied for a season excessive, however placed on the kind of offensive efficiency that resonates nationally and led them to their first win over a ranked Energy 5 nonconference opponent in additional than twenty years.
Since then, McCallister has punted 9 extra occasions than Washington’s offense averages north of 500 yards per recreation. On each offensive play, the Edmonds, Wash., native makes positive to remain warmed up whereas getting in snaps together with his lengthy snapper.
However he’ll joke together with his teammates each on occasion when his warmups are rendered moot.
“I am prepared in case I do must go in and punt,” McCallister mentioned. “However quite a lot of occasions, I do not.”
That is the fact for UCLA punter Nicholas Barr-Mira — additionally the workforce’s place kicker — as properly.
The Bruins have the distinct honor of rating final (or first?) nationally in punts per recreation (1.7) because of an explosive offense that’s quarterbacked by Dorian Thompson Robinson and ranks second within the nation in third-down conversion charge.
Barr-Mira mentioned his offensive teammates will inform him that they love him however all they wish to see on Saturdays is additional factors.
“I am like, ‘Hey, man, I am with you,'” he mentioned. “I will be able to go on the market and hit the sport winner if wanted.”
It is a far cry from his senior yr of highschool, when his workforce went 1-9.
“I punted the ball quite a bit,” he mentioned, laughing. “Fairly a change from now to then.”
Certainly, Barr-Mira and his counterparts are fantastic to remain largely behind the scenes, which every punter agrees comes with the territory. Particularly if it means their offense is rolling.
Texas A&M commit Tyler White, the highest punter recruit within the Class of 2023 within the 247Sports Composite, mentioned he’ll generally joke with fellow recruits that he is a five-star quarterback. He and two kickers as soon as advised the individuals working an A&M photograph shoot on an unofficial go to that they have been quarterbacks.
Throughout Brooks’ preseason photographs for Tennessee, he bought bored with the standard punter poses, so he moonlighted as an offensive lineman and a quarterback.
“Nicely,” Books mentioned, “consider it or not, being a punter recruit isn’t as glamorous as everyone thinks.”
Simply this week Penn State punter Barney Cupid took a digital camera round campus and requested his fellow college students in the event that they knew the punter on the workforce and what they considered him. “Who the hell is the punter?” mentioned one pupil. One other mentioned he thinks the Nittany Lions specialist “ought to kick it farther.” And yet another mentioned the final time she was at a recreation, “somebody mentioned he was unhealthy.”
I’ve bought some work to do… pic.twitter.com/0m6jDdnpos
— barney (@barneyamor) October 25, 2022
Amor mentioned a few college students knew every little thing about him, together with his first and final identify and highschool, however did not know he was standing proper in entrance of them. The video ended with Amor informing every of his interviewees that he was certainly Penn State’s punter — one thing all of them bought amusing out of collectively.
“The lady (who mentioned I used to be unhealthy) adopted me round for like 5 minutes afterward, telling me she was so sorry,” Amor mentioned. “I used to be like, ‘That is cool; don’t fret about it.’ Nevertheless it’s all enjoyable and video games.”
Since then, a number of different punters from throughout the nation have reached out about making related movies. Brooks, Barr-Mira, McCallister and Amor may be comparatively nameless publicly, however they’re going to all the time have their punter neighborhood. Till then, they’re hopeful of their offenses sustain their present manufacturing.
“It is the identical factor in every single place. Nobody’s going out and usually shopping for the punter’s jersey,” Amor mentioned. “You realize that moving into. That is simply a part of the territory. Nevertheless it’s enjoyable.”
(Photograph of Paxton Brooks: Mark Alberti / Icon Sportswire through Getty Pictures)