Posted by Mark Branstad Football Talent Advisors, Ltd.
Sounds strange to say but today’s football punters and kickers generally have extensive athletic backgrounds. That wasn’t always the case in the past but in today’s game of football these players are asked to do much more than just kick a ball. For example, many punters are asked to play safety after they kick and several times each season make touchdown saving tackles. Mitch Berger of the Pittsburgh Steelers made a touchdown saving tackle on a punt return by the Ravens, Jim Leonhard, during the AFC Championship game this past week. Punters and kickers today are also asked to carry out fakes and run the ball on occasions as well…which requires a higher degree of athleticism and football skill.
Since Jan Stenerud and the introduction of “soccer style” kicking many of today’s kickers have soccer in their athletic backgrounds at the junior high , high school, and sometimes college level. In fact, Jan Stenerud was a terrific ski-jumper, went to college on scholarship for this sport, and is the only true kicker / punter in the NFL Hall-of-Fame.
Stenerud started the movement of kickers with soccer backgrounds. The following NFL great kickers and punters all had soccer in their athletic backgrounds: Gary Anderson (Steelers & Vikings), Morten Andersen (Saints & Falcons), Neil Lowery (Chiefs), Olindo Mare (Dolphins & Seahawks), Sebastian Janikowski (Raiders) and Mark Mosley (Redskins). The list could go on and on. But soccer isn’t the only other sport that many successful kickers and punters participated in.
It is true that kickers and punters, position-wise, have the lowest high school track and field participation, followed by quarterbacks. There are many surprising examples of all-time greats that were also successful track athletes. Ray Guy (Oakland Raiders), arguably the greatest punter ever, was a state caliber discus thrower in high school and he also performed the high jump in high school. Brian Moorman (Bills – punter) actually participated in the NFL fastest man competition in 2006! A punter did that! He’s actually got an extensive track background and was a state champion high hurdler in high school and NCAA Division II 400 meter hurdle champion in college.
There are many examples of kickers and punters with athletic backgrounds in high school track: Eddie Murray (Lions), Hunter Smith (Colts), Kris Brown (Texans), Rob Bironas (Titans), Adam Vinatieri (Patriots & Colts), Chip Lohmiller (Redskins), Kyle Larson (Cincinnati), Jay Feely (Eagles), and Jason Elam (Broncos). Interesting enough Kris Brown and Hunter Smith were 6’08” high jumpers in high school and Steve Weatherford (Saints – punter) was a state caliber high jumper and 300 intermediate hurdler.
While the total number of kickers and punters that participated in high school track is statistically rather small there are many extraordinary examples. But there’s no doubt that most of today’s kickers and punters have extensive and varied athletic backgrounds and are more complete football players than ever before. We need only look at this year’s Lou Groza Award winner (Top Collegiate Placekicker), Graham Gano of Florida State. He became the first punter to win MVP honors in a college bowl game at this year’s Champs Sports Bowl. He is the top rated placekicker in the upcoming 2009 NFL Draft.
By the way, Graham ran an electronically timed 11.34 / 100 meter dash and 22.68 / 200 meter dash at his high school regional track meet in 2005. Not bad…for a kicker!
Here’s a link to an interesting article that follows up on this topic: