Posted by: marcmwm | July 7, 2009

Hall of Ferentz — Punter

Jason Baker left Iowa as the school's career leader in total punts (272) and total punt yards (11,304). He couldn't crack any of Reggie Roby's distance records, but there's a good chance no one ever will. (Gazette file)

Jason Baker left Iowa as the school's career leader in total punts (272) and total punt yards (11,304). He couldn't crack any of Reggie Roby's distance records, but there's a good chance no one ever will. (Gazette file)

This is a series of stories that will appear over the next 15 days that will run down the top three players at each position during coach Kirk Ferentz’s 10-plus seasons as Iowa’s head coach. The positions are QB, RB, FB, WR, TE, C, G, T, DT, DE, LB, S, CB, P and K.

Yes, it’s a summer-filler device, but this is something I’ve kicked around in my head for a bunch of years. I certainly want to hear from you on this. Let me know who I missed, just how crazy you think I am and your top three.

Yes, some of these are going to be a total no-brainer. Some won’t be so easy. I haven’t put keyboard to bandwith yet, but right now I see linebacker being a pretty good debate, same with RB and WR.

By the way, I’m not allowing any ties. No gray area here. (You’ll find out later I wimp out on this.)

1) Jason Baker (1997-00)

Baker will begin his ninth season in the NFL this year. Ninth. This will be his fourth year with the Carolina Panthers. He has a deal through 2012 and will earn $850,000 this season. His career average in the NFL is 44.1 yards.

Baker was, arguably, the Hawkeyes’ MVP in 2000. This from a story championing that notion:

Looking back on a Hawkeye season with early downs and recent ups, we bestow a few awards and note milestone moments as the team heads into its final game of 2000:

Team MVP: punter Jason Baker

This is not a diss. Baker, who humbly rejected the punter-as-MVP notion this week, has been that good.

Can you think of a football team that relied more on one foot? Baker’s punting has been the invisible hand in Iowa’s three victories. It’s been the difference between starting a drive on the 20 or the 40.

Baker has been a rock for four years, with his punt average rising each year.

He will be paid to punt somewhere next year.

2) Ryan Donahue (2007-10)

Donahue, who set a school record for punts in a season (86) and punt yardage in a season (3,533), was a Ray Guy Award semifinalist this season. He only had 12 of his 50 punts returned last season for a grand total of 60 yards.

Here’s a story The Gazette’s Scott Dochterman wrote on him going into last season.

3) David Bradley (2001-04)

Bradley was a four-year starter. He averaged 39.5 yards a kick.

His backstory was heartbreaking. He lost both of his parents at a very young age. Here’s an excerpt from a 2003 story:

IOWA CITY – When Iowa punter David Bradley faces a tough kick, one from deep in Hawkeyes’ territory, he picks a spot high in the stadium and just aims.

You want to say if Bradley aimed a little higher he’d kick it to his parents, Dennis and Cheryl, in heaven. But that’s too over the top. And that’s not where Bradley is right now.

He’s a thriving punter for the Hawkeyes, claiming Big Ten special teams player of the week after averaging 48.4 yards a punt in Iowa’s season-opening, 21-3, victory over Miami (Ohio).

The memories live, but there’s no trace of “why me.” This is a 21-year-old football player with an agenda.
“When things get bad, the tough get tougher,” said Bradley, a junior from San Diego, Calif. “The past is the past. You do remember some things. Right now, football is my focal point. That’s why I’m in college.”

His parents are gone, but Bradley, a square-jawed 6-foot-2, 205-pounder, still has aunt and uncle, Jack and Eileen Bradley. They became surrogates, no hesitation. And they’re in with David full force. They travel from Palm Springs for every home game, and even make a few away games.

“We’re there, but his dad was his coach and mentor and best pal,” Jack Bradley said. “Dennis laid the foundation for him. David has always been in sports and I think he’s learned a lot about adversity through sports.

“He’s had adversity on and off the field. But he’s always been a gamer. He keeps coming back.”

Honorable mention: Andy Fenstermaker (2005-06). Well, punters seem to last four years under coach Kirk Ferentz. Fenstermaker was a two-year guy who averaged 38.0 yards. Opponents averaged just 2.8 yards a return during his senior year.

 

Iowa place kicker Daniel Murray (1) celebrates with holder Ryan Donahue (5) after making a 31-yard field goal to give Iowa the a one point lead over Penn State in the closing seconds quarter of their game Saturday, Nov. 8, 2008 at Kinnick Stadium in Iowa City. Iowa won the game by a score of 24 to 23.(Brian Ray/The Gazette)

Iowa place kicker Daniel Murray (1) celebrates with holder Ryan Donahue (5) after making a 31-yard field goal to give Iowa the a one point lead over Penn State in the closing seconds quarter of their game Saturday, Nov. 8, 2008 at Kinnick Stadium in Iowa City. Iowa won the game by a score of 24 to 23.(Brian Ray/The Gazette)

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Responses

  1. I think John Gallery and Nate Kaeding are the only punters not on this list.

  2. This is gonna be great.

    A good start with punter. I’m excited to see how Ryan Donahue progresses this year.

    A solid punter is key to the “bend but don’t break” defense. Pin them deep! The more plays an opponent has to run, the better the chance at big mistakes and breakdowns. And Ryan was way more consistent last year, so 2009 should be great.

    His excellent foot will really help us this year.

  3. ‘Bout damn time you get to the punters!

    I remember watching Roby kick. My parents had tickets in section S, row 68 and the ball seemed to be at eye level. He’d routinely put the ball through the uprights on kickoffs (they were kicking from the 40 then IIRC). But, as strong as his leg was and as gaudy as his gross was, he had a tendency to kick the ball too far, either out-kicking his coverage of putting it out of the end zone. He was all power with an not much finesse. Unfortunately I can’t seem to find net yardages stats.

    Donahue’s avg last year was a deceptively low as he was pooch kicking a lot due to offensive struggles and the decline in the placekicking from prior years. I’ve seen a lot of punters at Iowa (going back to Roby) and, while Donahue doesn’t have the canon leg Roby did, he is a much more accurate punter. He consistently pins the ball
    inside the 20 when given the opportunity to do so.

    I’m not sure there’s a way to capture that stat (maybe comparing punts inside the 20 vs touchbacks) but it’s not all the punter’s doing either. You have to factor in field position. But, when you argue Baker was an MVP, you also have to talk about Donahue. He consistently put the defense in a position to be successful.

    A good punter is a someone you never really notice but can make all the difference in the world.

  4. A punting efficiency stat could be calculated. On punts inside the 20, add a year for each yard the punt goes past the 20 without going into the end zone. A 40 yard punt to the 10 yard line would count as a 50 yard punt. A 50 yard punt into the end zone would count as a 30 year punt.

    When Roby punted for the Hawkeyes, the pooch punting was done by the place kicker rather than Roby. That is part of why Roby set what then was the NCAA record for yards per punt for a season–a record that stood until broken by Randall Cunningham, the QB at UNLV.

  5. Screw team MVP, Jason Baker should have won the Heisman.

  6. My one quibble with Donahue: he has a tendency to be anti-clutch, and do so at the worst possible time. That is to say, he will have a great day of punts, averaging 40+ yards per and be doing a great job, then, when we absolutely need a booming punt, he will shank it, badly (see the ISU and Pitt games last year).

    All that said, he is truly an exceptional punter and I’m ecstatic that he’s ours. Plus, anyone who watches a replay of the PSU game will immediately realize that Donahue was the truly unsung hero of the end. On Murray’s kick, the snap was terrible-high and off center-but Donahue did an amazing job to bring it down with laces out as if it were nothing. For that reason alone, he will always be money in my mind.

  7. I think Donahue has a very strong chance at being named 1st Team All Big Ten this year. Although Mesko at Mich is a senior and a good one to boot (no pun intended), Donahue became more consistent as the year went on last year.

    As all of you have been stating, a good punter can be absolutely critical to overall team success.

    Go Hawks!

  8. Donahue is good, but Space Emperor (of space) Zoltan is the best punter in the country, so All-Big Ten seems like a stretch unless there’s an injury.

  9. A lot of unseen things go into special teams. With a punter, questions include how productive your team is (do they put good drives together?) and how many of the best players are on the punt team. Are the gunners your speediest guys, even regular team starters? Also, has the punter learned hang time? Someone above mentioned Reggie Roby, who could boot a ball as far as I have ever seen (played against him in high school) but really didn’t figure out hang time until he went to the pros. Our recent punters are getting better at hang time, though it seems like the old practice of kicking for the “coffin corner”, a deep sideline, has been abandoned. Baker’s probably the best, but Donahue has made big strides each year.

  10. […] Hall of Ferentz — Punter […]


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