Question: What do a fireworks show and a good Jake Richardson punt have in common? Answer: They both draw plenty of oohs and aahs.
While two outstanding defenses prevented much in the way of offensive fireworks during last weeks Miami-Michigan game, Richardson, a senior punter at Miami, drew plenty of oohs and aahs with his booming punts. Over 106,000 fans watched as Richardson averaged 53.9 yards per boot. His seven punts on the day included one howitzer blast of 74 yards.
If he keeps that level, hell probably be first team all-American, Shane Montgomery said of Richardson during the Miami coachs weekly press conference.
Richardson is already a Ray Guy Award candidate. Suffice it to say Richardson didnt hurt his chances for the award, which recognizes the nations top collegiate punter, with his performance at Michigans Big House.
That grand stage is about 240 miles from Oxford, Ohio home of the RedHawks and just a few minutes drive from the house where Richardsons punting career began.
It started when I was really young maybe second or third grade, Richardson said. I would just get out in the yard kicking. My dad taught me how to kick it into a spiral. He kind of gave me the basics of it.
Richardson continued, Once we hit fifth grade, we were allowed punting in Little Pro, and Ive punted ever since then for (whatever) team I was on.
Punting, however, was only one facet of his pre-collegiate football experience. I just liked the whole deal of football in general, he said. I played all the way through high school as a linebacker, safety, receiver (and) tight end.
Punters are often not thought of as good defenders, but Richardson enjoyed his defensive opportunities, and his skills helped him earn first team all-league honors as a linebacker. I was a decent hitter, said Richardson, who particularly enjoyed playing safety.
At safety, you just get to watch the entire field, and then you get to go full speed and hit somebody, he said.
|Richardson is averaging a nation's best 51.6 yards per punt this season.
Photo: Mike Smith
Richardson started kicking for the Talawanda High School varsity team as a sophomore and continued through his senior campaign. A pretty good kick was probably 40 yards at the high school level. I just had regular football cleats on not a kicking shoe. I did have one go 65 yards in a game my junior year. I just got hold of it, and it took off.
Richardson attended the Miami senior camp during the summer before his final prep season. Several smaller schools were impressed enough to indicate interest in him. That interest, however, was mainly as a punter. If I went to a (smaller) school like that, I would definitely want to play safety, Richardson said.
Miami was also interested in Richardson as a punter, but it had several things going in its favor. As a native of the area, Richardson was well-aware of Miamis respected football tradition. Also, just as Richardson was finishing his prep football career, the RedHawks were completing a 2003 season that saw them finish 10th in the final AP poll. The Miami star was still shining when RedHawk coaches talked to Richardson.
After my senior year, they said I could have a walk-on position. They said their punter (Mike Wafzig) was a senior, and he would be done after my true freshman year, and I would have an opportunity to start and get put on scholarship.
Richardson accepted the Miami offer and was on scholarship by the second semester of his freshman year. After a redshirt year in 2004, he punted 46 times while averaging 38.4 yards per kick in 2005.
He pushed the average to 41.1 yards on 58 attempts in 2006, and followed that in 2007 by tying Gary Laytons Miami season record of 45.0 yards per kick. That was just 1.8 yards behind national leader Kevin Huber of Cincinnati and put Richardson sixth in overall national rankings for punting average.
While punting average is an obviously important skill indicator, Richardson pointed out two other key areas both of which he is giving special attention this year. They are directional kicking and landing punts inside the 20. Ive been working on it a lot more lately, he said.
While 24 of Richardsons punts in 2007 went for over 50 yards (two were over 60), he also dropped 17 punts inside the 20-yard line. Ten punts were touchbacks and eight resulted in fair catches.
Richardson was eagerly looking forward to his senior season when he developed a stress-related problem in his foot. It was almost like a stress fracture. That kept me out of all spring ball. I was on crutches and then (in) a boot for a while, he said.
It was more pain than anything else, he continued. Not being able to punt at all until the second week of July, I was worried about it maybe setting me back a little bit.
As a punter might say, alls well that lands well, and Richardson has landed quite well. When I came back out, I hit it pretty well the first couple times. It was just a matter of getting my leg back in shape. Those on hand through the first two Miami games would no doubt agree that Richardson is not only back in punting shape, but also in the groove.
Richardson credited his teammates with helping him return on a successful note. I dont have to worry about things, he said. I know its going to be a good snap. The rest of the guys are all starting offensive and defensive players, and our punt team is really good.
Experience is another important factor, especially in big games.
My first start was at Ohio State, and it was a little overwhelming. I actually kind of hated that. But now, its just the same game. There are just a lot more people. Its fun.
Experience has also taught Richardson not to worry about things he cant control.
In high school, I was on the field most of the time, and I always had a lot more control over what was going on and could make plays. Now, (I) have to stand there and watch it the whole time, said Richardson, adding that experience now enables him to direct his focus on punting.
Through two games, Richardson has proved to be a significant weapon in the RedHawks arsenal. Although it ended in a RedHawks loss, the Michigan game nonetheless illustrated the impact of a good punting and coverage unit.
He had a tremendous game, and we did a tremendous job covering punts, Montgomery said. He really helped us with field position, because our average starting point was the 23-yard line. Other than the second drive, where we unfortunately put the ball on the ground they didnt have very good field position, either.
Richardson said his senior class is still in a position to help the RedHawks attain some of their most important goals. Swiftly approaching is a road game against the University of Cincinnati. At stake in the fierce area rivalry is the Victory Bell. Theyve had it for two years now, and it would be great to bring it back our senior year, Richardson said.
The RedHawks are also focused on winning the MAC East and getting another shot at winning that MAC championship game. A win there would allow the seniors to go out with a championship and bowl appearance.
If he can keep performing well and improve in some key areas, Richardson has a chance to play some more football this time on Sundays. There is also the opportunity to put himself atop Miami's punting records.
Its nice to have your name go down, Richardson said, but I think it all just goes into the basic goals of putting the team in the best position (to win).