The loneliest men in college football: ‘No one goes out and buys the punter’s jersey’


At the start of the second trimester Tennesseeis an instant classic with Alabama Oct. 15, Vols quarterback Hendon Hooker fired a pass down the middle on the third and 10. He hit the tight end Princeton Fan for a 7-yard pickup. But with Tennessee still at their own 32-yard line and 3 yards from a first down, the coaching staff had only one logical choice.

This set the stage for an unknown scene for this year’s Thefts and their explosive attack.

“It’s going to be a punt for Tennessee. What about that? CBS analyst Gary Danielson said on the show.

“First time (today),” followed play-by-play announcer Brad Nessler.

And the Tennessee punter trotted Paxton Brooks.

Brooks, a fifth-year senior, is fortunate to also be Tennessee’s starter and kickoff specialist. The Vols lead the nation with 50.1 points per game and are second in the nation behind only ohio state with 46 touchdowns. It’s not like he doesn’t have playing time.

But as a punter — one who was named to the pre-season watch list for the 2022 Ray Guy Award, no less — things have been pretty, uh, quiet on that front. After throwing 2.3 times per game in 2019, 4.9 times per game in 2020 and 3.5 times per game in 2021, Brooks is averaging just 2.0 punts per game in 2022. Only three teams nationwide kicked fewer times per game than the Vols, creating the ultimate paradox for Brooks and bettors like him:

How does it feel to be the punter for a team that hardly ever punts? And how is a punter supposed to feel when his team’s attacking success comes directly at the expense of his own playing time?

“Me and (offensive coordinator Alex) Golesh, he has a great relationship with me, so we always joke, and he goes, ‘We won’t need you this week,'” Brooks said. “A few weeks ago someone asked coach (Josh) Heupel a question about punting or something, and he said it’s become kind of a dirty word around our building. .”

Indeed, the Flights only clear if they have to. Brooks says he even took a picture with Hooker and a long snapper Matthew Salanskiin which all three players wave the number “zero” with their hands whenever Tennessee goes a full game without a punt.

Washington is enjoying an offensive renaissance under freshman coach Kalen DeBoer. The Huskies are scoring a lot more touchdowns…and kicking a lot less.

“Well, on the one hand, it’s kind of frustrating because I’d like to go out there and do my job,” said Jack McCallister, the redshirt freshman Washington punter whose 1.9 punts per game rank 130th out of 131 FBS teams. “But it also feels good to know that our attack is doing well and so I don’t really need to go there.

“I never imagined last year would have gone the way it did and then Coach DeBoer would come in and we would have this crazy attack. But it happened, and even though I don’t have a lot of punts, it’s still a super fun experience.

Washington’s Jack McCallister has kicked just 15 times in eight games. (Jesse Beals/Getty Images)

McCallister said he started noticing he might not need much on Saturday when Washington’s offense — which ranks No. 7 nationally — was playing state of michigan in Week 3. The Huskies threw three more times, tied for a season high, but put on the kind of offensive performance that resonated nationwide and led them to their first win over a non-conference Power 5 ranked opponent in more than two decades.

Since then, McCallister has thrown nine more times as Washington’s offense averages north of 500 yards per game. With every offensive play, the Edmonds, WA native makes sure to stay warmed up while getting snaps with his long snapper.

But he will joke with his teammates once in a while when his warm-ups are rendered useless.

“I’m ready in case I need to get in and clear out,” McCallister said. “But often I don’t.”

This is reality for UCLA bettor Nicholas BarrMira – also the team’s place-kicker – as well.

The Bruins have the honor of ranking last (or first?) nationally in punts per game (1.7) thanks to an explosive offense supported by Dorian Thompson Robinson and ranks second in the country in terms of third-party down conversion rate.

Barr-Mira said his offensive teammates will tell him they love him, but all they want to see on Saturday is extra points.

“I’m like, ‘Hey, man, I’m with you,'” he said. “I’ll be ready to go out there and hit the game winner if necessary.”

That’s a far cry from his senior year of high school, when his team went 1-9.

“I kicked the ball a lot,” he said with a laugh. “Quite a change by then.”

Indeed, Barr-Mira and her counterparts are going to be staying largely behind the scenes, which every punter agrees comes with the territory. Especially if it means their offense is rolling.

Texas A&M hire Tyler White, the 247Sports Composite’s top rookie punter in the Class of 2023, said he sometimes jokes with other rookies that he’s a five-star quarterback. He and two kickers once told people running an A&M photo shoot during an unofficial visit that they were quarterbacks.

During Brooks’ preseason shots for Tennessee, he grew tired of traditional punter poses, so he moonlighted as an offensive lineman and quarterback.

“Well,” Books said, “believe it or not, being a rookie bettor isn’t as glamorous as everyone thinks.”

Just this week Penn State bettor Barney Love took a camera to campus and asked his fellow students if they knew the team punter and what they thought of him. “Who the hell is the bettor?” said a student. Another said he thought the Nittany Lions specialist ‘should go further’. And another said the last time she was at a game, ‘someone said he was bad’.

Amor said a few students knew everything about him, including his first name, last name, and high school, but didn’t know he was standing right in front of them. The video ended with Amor informing each of his interviewees that he was indeed Penn State’s punter – something they all laughed at together.

“The girl (who said I was mean) followed me around for about five minutes after, telling me she was so sorry,” Amor said. “I was like, ‘That’s cool; don’t worry about it. But it’s all fun and games.

Since then, several other punters from across the country have attempted to make similar videos. Brooks, Barr-Mira, McCallister and Amor may be relatively anonymous publicly, but they will always have their betting community. Until then, they hope their offenses will maintain their current output.

“It’s the same everywhere. No one normally goes out and buys the punter’s jersey,” Amor said. ” You know it. It’s just part of the territory. But it’s fun.”

(Photo by Paxton Brooks: Mark Alberti/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)


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