Saturday, May 29, 2010
Austin was on top of the college kicking world in 2007 when he was nominated as a Lou Groza finalist. At that time he thought his ‘kicking’ future looked very bright. However, by the following year he was just wishing for an opportunity to get signed by an NFL team.
This is the life of a kicker.
I met Austin last year and we spent many conversations about being a kicking specialist, and about life in general.
I am happy to share with you Austin Starr On ‘A Specialist’s Path’.
Austin started kicking during his sophomore year in high school when the football coach looked to borrow a kicker from the soccer team.
“During my sophomore year in high school, the football coach asked the soccer team if anyone was interested in kicking that year,” Austin said. “I gave it a try and eventually became the starter early that season.”
Once Austin became the starter for his team, he was determined to take his game to the next level.
“Soccer played a big role in helping me develop a fast/strong leg,” Austin said. “I went to a bunch of kicking camps that helped me learn the basic technique but the biggest work was kicking all the time to develop muscle memory.”
As Austin continued on his path he found that private kicking instruction helped him get to the next step.
“My kicking coach, Mike Panasuk really helped me learn the more advanced techniques to become an NFL prospect”, Austin said.
Coach Panasuk has been a kicking coach for 15 years and has had brief stints in professional football in training camps with the Falcons and Broncos.
Check out video on Austin with Coach Panasuk http://tinyurl.com/2g78srw .
After his redshirt year in Bloomington, Coach DiNardo was fired and replaced by Coach Terry Hoeppner.
Austin was influenced by many people during his path, but the coaching he received at Indiana was a big part of his development and he credits no one more for his kicking success than Coach Hoeppner.
While Coach Hoeppner’s was at Indiana, Austin earned the job as the kickoff specialist in his freshman year. He earned the job of field goal kicker a year later.
Tragically, after two years with the team Coach Hoeppner was diagnosed with brain cancer and died later that year. This was emotionally devastating to Austin. But Austin was determined to use this situation to inspire him, rather than deter him from his kicking path.
The university mourned the loss of their coach and the 2007 season was dedicated in his memory. Austin responded by having a career year. He went 21 of 23 on field goals and was a finalist for the Lou Groza Award.
His banner year peaked in the final game of that season against Purdue as he hit a 49 yard game winning field goal. He was able to share his moment of triumph with an emotional embrace with Coach Hoeppner’s wife Jane, after the game.
“The 2007 Old Oaken Bucket game against Purdue was the most meaningful and memorable moment of my career,” Austin said. “The entire season was in honor of my late Coach Terry Hoeppner. It was the last game of the regular season and we had to win in order to become bowl eligible. I was very fortunate to contribute to that win.”
After coming off the ‘high’ of that magical 2007 season, Austin dealt with a tough blow with an unexpected injury. During one fall practice, Austin had a tough day kicking and he decided he just wanted to kick his way ‘out of it’.
Being the hard worker he is, Austin had the equipment staff turn on the lights to the field as he wanted to keep kicking into the night to discover why he had such a tough practice. This led to an injury to his hip flexor that never fully healed during the season.
“During the 2008 season I developed a hip flexor injury,” Austin said. “I didn’t perform very well that season and it really hurt my chances in making the NFL. I just kicked through the pain and tried to stay positive because in my mind there was no other alternative.”
Fans being fans (and people being people) the same fans that were praising him during his banner 2007 season, were now the ones criticizing him for his injury plagued season a year later.
“It really challenged the mental part of my game,” said Austin. “I’m now a better kicker having gone through public criticism from fans, and from overcoming physical adversity.”
After finishing up his 2008 season Austin came to Scottsdale, Arizona to work with Coach Zauner.
Austin was one of the first people I met while assisting Coach Zauner, and I was impressed with his talent. He came back to Arizona for additional lessons that year and we spent quite a few nights enjoying Mexican food and talking about life.
Shortly after the 2009 NFL Draft, Austin was signed for Mini Camp with the Jacksonville Jaguars. That didn’t work out for him, and after being released from the Jaguars he continued his training and also decided to attend Coach Zauner’s 2010 Free Agent Specialists Combine.
Austin is still training for the NFL, but he has now set in motion a solid ‘back-up’ plan. He was a very accomplished student and has decided to pursue dentistry if his dream of playing professional football doesn’t fall into place.
“I think it’s really important to point out that football does not last forever,” Austin said. “There are so many variables that can play into a specialist’s career excelling or falling short, but every NFL career will eventually end.”
Austin may end up playing on Sunday’s but the hard work and character he has shown over his college career will carry with him for a lifetime.
“I know I’m going to sound like a parent but I’ve realized that getting a college degree is one of the best accomplishments you can achieve in your life,” Austin said. “So many more doors are opened when you have a college diploma. It’s great to try and pursue the dream of being a specialist in the NFL, but you’re hurting yourself if you don’t have a backup plan.”
I’m tempted to end this entry about Austin by saying something really like “Austin’s backup plan as a dentist could be filled with a few ‘cavities’ along with way” but I’m sure he’ll ‘fill them in’ just fine.”
However, being the son of a dentist, I won’t do that to you.
I’ll just end this post by saying “no matter deep the ‘rough-spots’ in Austin’s life may be rooted, I’m sure he will be ‘crowned’ with success.”
Monday, May 24, 2010
This three day camp is designed for college and free agent kicking specialists to improve their technique along with Coach Zauner explaining what the standards are to make it in the NFL.
Working closely with Coach Zauner for the past two years and coaching college and high school kickers in Tennessee, has given me a unique perspective on the 'path' it takes to make it from a high school specialists all the way to professional kicking specialist.
We had some very talented kickers at the event including Jacob Branstetter (pictured above), who is entering his senior year at the University of Kansas. He is thought of as one of the top kickers in the country for next year and even hit a 57 yard field goal in 2009 against Oklahoma.
There were many other talented kickers from all over the country that attended like:
- Joshua Shene: Former Ole Miss kicker
- Nick Freeland: Indiana U. Kicker
- James Aho: New Mexico U. Kicker
- Randy Bullock: Texas A&M Kicker
- Fabrizio Scaccia: Free Agent Kicker
- Nicholas Pertuit: Free Agent Kicker
- Giannis Kourlesis: Free Agent Kicker
- Cody Morrow: Mid America U.
It was fun working with such a talented group of specialists as a whole but what I really enjoyed was working with the quite a few of the field goal kickers after the sessions on some minor technique issues that needed to be tweaked.
I saw great improvement with the kickers by the end of the four practices as each kicker had a good idea of where they stood and what drills they needed to work on to improve their game.
Coach Zauner did a fantastic job with the punters. This was a very talented group and Tom Malone (pictured above), free agent punter, was one of the best as he hit a 5.6 hang time on the first day of practice.
The snappers came out on the second and third days as we worked on live operation for the kickers and punters. Live operation is crucial to any specialist and that is something I think is a real advantage of this camp.
Also, I gave my Sport Psychology presentation for the group on what it takes to take your game to the next level. Every specialist at the camp was talented but what separates the good from great kickers is the mental side of the game.
Overall I thought it was a great camp that covered not just the technical aspect of the game but it worked with the player as a whole.
If you are a college or free agent specialist and you are looking to take your game to the next level you should really check out the remaining two Pro Development Camps in Minnesota.
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This fall, when Wisconsin fans settle in on Sunday afternoons to watch their beloved Green Bay Packers, they might possibly see Tim Masthay, a reserved red head from Kentucky, booming towering punts to keep the opponents at bay.
Tim is vying for a kicking specialist spot on the Packers roster.
As the former University of Kentucky punter, Tim’s specialist’s path has taken him from hitting punts at a local rugby field with friends, on to becoming an All SEC punter, and now, to one of two punters on the roster for one of the most storied professional franchises in all of sports.
During my playing days at Tennessee I had been aware of Tim’s talent. When I finished my career in college I was able to get to know him much better while I was working with Coach Zauner.
It’s amazing to think that at one time, this extremely talented punter from Murray, Kentucky almost gave up punting all together. However, with the support of coaches, family, and with faith, Tim is in the position he is in today.
This is Tim Masthay On ‘A Specialist’s Path’.
Tim, like many other kicking specialists, started his ‘kicking’ path on the soccer field. But unlike many other specialists, he was not recruited to play football by the team’s coach, but by a friend that was on the football team.
“I always played soccer growing up, so I was accustomed to kicking a ball,” said Tim. “When I entered high school, the head football coach and one of my best friend -who was a star offensive tackle on the team- began trying to persuade me to kick a different shaped ball a shot”, Tim said.
His friend’s encouragement and persistence helped in recruiting him to the football field. “I was aided by some of my friends who would shag balls for me while I was trying to learn how to kick in my neighbor’s yard, or at the high school practice field, or sometimes the college rugby field which was located near my friend’s house”, Tim said.
After a few years of casually kicking a football with friends, Tim finally relented to his peers requests and decided to try out for the football team.
“I didn’t give it much thought initially,” said Tim. “But somewhere along the way I began seriously considering playing. Toward the end of my sophomore year I decided I would go out for the team my junior season and that’s what I did.”
Tim is an excellent athlete and in high school he didn’t want to be ‘just a kicker’ on the football team. Since he had good size and speed, he also decided to play wide receiver in addition to handling the kicking and punting duties for his high school team.
“My favorite part of high school football was scoring a touchdown, kicking the extra point, and then kicking off!” Tim said.
After a while, Tim put his wide receiver days behind him and took his kicking skills to the University of Kentucky on full scholarship. When he arrived on campus the coaches had plans to use him mainly as a punter and kickoff specialist.
His path to becoming a college punter was aided by his head coach at Kentucky.
“My head coach in college, Rich Brooks, was also the punting coach,” Tim said. “He worked with me day in and day out my entire four years and always stuck with me, through thick and thin. The perseverance he showed in developing me as a punter has aided me in continually trying to improve and stick with it even when things seem bleak.”
Early in his college career, Tim faced some inner demons that caused him to question his motivation to continue playing football.
“My sophomore year of college I wanted to quit playing football. I felt like I was taking steps back as a punter and that I would always just struggle and be miserable about it,” said Tim. “I didn’t plan on quitting in the middle of the season, but I did give it serious consideration right in the middle of the season,” he added.
Playing in the SEC can be trying for kicking specialists and we all have had our moments where we have had to do some soul searching. However Tim was able to lean on his faith to get him through the situation.
"Instead of quitting I just decided to lean on God for strength and stick it out.,” said Tim. And man, am I glad that’s the path I wound up walking down.”
After his difficulties early in his college career, Tim started to blossom into an elite punter and kickoff specialist. This culminated in his being named 1st team All SEC in 2008.
Regardless the success Tim has had as a college punter, he is still trying move beyond being a punter with a lot of “potential”, to becoming a polished NFL punter. And he has explored many strategies to achieve this goal.
At the conclusion of his senior year in college, Tim came out to Scottsdale, Arizona to work with Coach Zauner. As Coach Zauner’s assistant at the time, I met Tim and formed an instant bond with him from our days in the SEC. I was very impressed with ability as a punter and especially his kickoffs. He could consistently kickoff into the end zone with hang times in the range of 4.2-4.3 seconds.
I always believed, and still believe, Tim is NFL material. And now Tim is proving that.
Tim got his first shot in the NFL in 2009 when he signed with the Indianapolis Colts as an undrafted free agent. However that opportunity was derailed when the Colts drafted Pat McAfee in the 7th round of the NFL Draft.
In early January 2010, Tim signed with the Packers and is now competing against Australian punter Chris Bryan for the starting job. It will be interesting to see how that competition unfolds.
But Tim isn’t just waiting around for the results as he always trying to improve his technique and believes that studying film is a valuable tool in his development.
“I still watch a lot of film in an effort to try get better,” he says. “And one of the things I love about being in the NFL is the access to film on all of the NFL kickers and punters. What a resource!”
As Tim watches film on other kickers in the NFL, he imagines that one day other young punters might be watching film on him. Something he only once dreamed might be a possibility.
Probably like most young athletes, the first time I kicked a football I thought of doing at the highest level in the NFL,” said Tim. “But did I seriously think that would become a possibility? I’m not sure.”
“I do remember, however, often dreaming, hoping, and believing I could play college football in a premier conference though,” he said. “And getting a scholarship to play college football was always one of my main motivations.”
Tim has not only reached his dream of playing college football, but he may soon achieve what most punters would consider the ‘ultimate dream’; being a starter in the NFL.
Achieving that, would just be one more step along Tim Masthay’s Specialists Path.
Monday, May 17, 2010
Jackson is different from most high school kickers because he has always kicked off the ground for his high school team. He hit a 52 yard field goal last season so I knew he had some serious talent.
At one point I looked at Jackson and smiled at him and said "I can only imagine what you can do when you hit the ball correctly."
We worked on a few drills to master the correct foot position and I even got out there in my New Balance tennis shoes and showed him the correct way to do it.
By the end of the second day we were running low on time so I ask him to just show me a few kickoffs. He then proceeds to kick his kickoffs, with a one inch tee, 68 to 70 yards in the air.
Sunday, May 16, 2010
It is funny though that when you are a consultant you are rarely on 'vacation' and surprisingly this weekend happened to be a big weekend for kicking in Las Vegas.
After spending three days in Vegas, with my money and integrity in hand, I proceeded to La Jolla, California for the remaining three days of my trip.
Overall it was a wonderful trip that I will remember for the rest of my life. Now it is time to finish some of my obligations in Arizona, see a few more sites like the Grand Canyon, and make the 24 hour drive home to Tennessee to work with kicking specialists across the state of Tennessee.
Saturday, May 15, 2010
When I started writing this column in April, I was thinking of the different paths people can take to become kicking specialists. Sometimes these paths are straight like when a kicker goes from high school to college and then to the NFL. Well, this is not one of those stories.
I met Fabrizio a few months ago, and I have rarely heard of a specialist who has had to deal with so much adversity-in life and in football-upon his journey to make a professional football team.
In the back of his mind, Fabrizio always believed he was destined for bigger things.
“During my time with the Ft. Pierce Fire, I always received the Florida Bowl MVP,” Fabrizio said. “People were always coming up to me and saying “you are too good to be here.”
He played for the Ft. Pierce Fire for four years, and then this past year he played for his newly formed hometown team, the St. Lucie Bobcats.
He started out the year with a bang when he hit a 62 yard field goal in a preseason scrimmage. He then continued his long range success with a 66 yard field goal in one of the first games of the season.
I believe the old phrase is ‘if a tree falls in the forest, and no one hears it, did it make a sound’? Well the same could be said for kicking as well. Because if a kicker makes 62 and 66 yard field goals and no one sees it, did it actually happen?
Fabrizio’s field goals were going unnoticed until he hit a 68 yard field goal. It was then Doug Bercu, a former USFL football star and real estate developer in Atlanta, GA, took an interest.
Upon discovering Fabrizio’s kicking success –and learning about the difficulties he faced in his personal life- Doug decided to assist him on his path to playing professional football.
“Doug was instrumental in any success I have had,” said Fabrizio. “He got me the necessary exposure I could not get on my own. I don’t know where I would right now if it were not for Doug.”
Doug is a no nonsense type guy and one of his first phone calls was to Sports Illustrated. He let them know of Fabrizio’s kicking exploits and they decided to put him the magazine last April’s issue in the ‘Faces in the Crowd’ section.
Doug’s work for Fabrizio didn’t end there. He continued by contacting teams like Michigan, Minnesota, and Ohio State to inquire about him playing College Football.
Fabrizio caught the attention of Ohio State and they were looking to bring him to the ‘Horse Shoe’ and possibly offer him a scholarship. But, as seemed to always be the case, there was one hiccup in this whole process.
“I filed paperwork with the NCAA in regards to my eligibility and when I got the paperwork back they decided I was ineligible,” Fabrizio said. Something he was –and is still- upset about.
The NCAA ruling was for every year he played semi professional football, Fabrizo lost a year of eligibility. Fabrizio he played 5 years, which completely exhausted his college eligibility.
Fabrizio’s was quite upset at this ruling, as he felt it was totally unjustified, however, he and Doug were not giving up. They looked at other avenues for Fabrizio to pursue, including a visit to Division II North Alabama, but the NCAA ruling was the same as in Division 1 football.
As they exhausted one avenue after another, Doug –never one to give up on any task he had started, had one more rabbit up his sleeve; Coach Zauner.
Doug had met Coach Zauner –who is considered to be one of the best kicking coaches in the country- years ago at the River Falls Kicking Camp. He decided this was the next step for Fabrizio.
Fabrizio flew to Arizona earlier this year and worked out for Coach Zauner for three days. After getting out some of the nervousness out of the way on the first day, Fabrizio started to show him his potential.
“I believe that Coach Zauner was a little skeptical of me at first because I had never played College Football,” said Fabrizio. “But after watching me for three days of kicking, he told me he thought I had potential.”
Fabrizio knew of Coach Zauner’s reputation, so he was quite encouraged by this.
“Coach Zauner told me one of the biggest things he was impressed by, was my ability to adapt to his technique for kicking.” Fabrizio said.
Fabrizio was then invited to Coach Zauner’s Free Agent Specialists Combine. This was a chance to impress numerous NFL teams in attendance.
Knowing the importance of the workout, Fabrizio came back out to Arizona about a week prior to the combine to train and acclimate to his surroundings.
During this time Fabrizio stayed at my condo and I got to meet Fabrizio and talk with him about competing at Coach Zauner’s Combine.
I competed at the event last year and had seen most of his competition in person either through kicking against them last year or by meeting them while working with Coach Zauner over the past two years. So I was able to help Fabrizio mentally prepare for what he was about to face.
Fabrizio did very well at the combine, but he also recognized the level of talent that was at the event was very high.
“In the past, I always had the biggest leg wherever I kicked, but this was a reality check,” said Fabrizio. “There are a lot of good kickers out there.”
Now that he had his first taste of a professional workout, he said that the next workout was much easier.
“I got a workout with the Las Vegas Locomotives of the UFL, and I was really happy with how I performed,” said Fabrizo. “It was the first time I really knew I had the chance to make it.”
His workout with the Las Vegas Locomotives was so successful they invited him back for a private workout this past weekend.
When you think about it, there is a bit of irony here. Las Vegas is known for it’s ‘luck’, which is something that has been missing in much of Fabrizio’s life. However, it now seems his luck might be changing!
Every kicker has a ‘path’ that they must travel. And the path to professional football requires both talent and opportunity.
With the help of Doug Bercu, combined with Fabrizio’s overwhelming talent, his path –once filled with so many twists and turns- may now become a much straighter journey to his dream of playing professional football.
Tuesday, May 11, 2010
Finally I did lessons with the kickers at West High School. Both George Bullock and Michael Williams make for some of the best depth at any school in the state.
I worked with Greg Colquitt on Thursday over at Maryville High School. Greg was in the middle of Spring Practice and as you can see in the picture (above) the team was in full pads.
On Saturday I worked with Spencer Roth over at Knoxville Catholic High School. Spencer is approximately 6'6 with good size and flexibility as you can see in the picture (above).
I suggested to Spencer that he put his drop a little higher and once he made the adjustment he really started to boom some punts. Footwork and the drop and so important for punters at all levels!
Monday, May 10, 2010
James: The recruiting game has changed quite a bit since I was a high school senior. I had several offers in May of my junior year but things have changed quite a bit now for most specialists, which is why I asked John his thoughts on what were some ways to catch the college coaches attention in regards to recruiting.
James: Finally I asked John, that having discussed his 'proudest' moment, what was one of toughest moments he witnessed of his son? And how did he respond to it?
"With the new staff coming in and them being behind in recruiting, Corey was an afterthought. The day before signing day that all changed. I received a call that morning from the Tennessee staff they wanted to speak with Corey and wanted to make sure they had his cell phone number. Corey of course was in school and let each one of his teachers know that he might be receiving phone calls from coaches that day."
James: Recruiting can be a very challenging process for the kicking specialists themselves, but I am positive Corey would not be where he is today if it were not for the support of his two parents.