Dallas Cowboys assistant coach Steve Hoffman has found kickers and punters just about everywhere. He discovered punter Toby Gowin (left) on one of his 15 to 20 campus visits a year. He was scouting a kickers' tryout camp in Reno when Richie Cunningham caught his eye. He has invited four guys to work out in Dallas based on what they showed in videotapes they mailed him. In fact, he receives nearly 300 unsolicited tapes from kickers and punters aspiring to be pros each year—even more when the Cowboys lose a kicker or punter to free agency, which is often.
Whenever a Dallas booter hits the market—as Eddie Murray, Chris Boniol and John Jett have since the end of the '93 season—owner Jerry Jones waves goodbye and expects Hoffman to find a replacement. "With the salary cap it makes sense," Hoffman says of Jones's policy. "Why spend an extra $500,000 a year on a punter with a 44-yard average when you can find a guy for the minimum [$195,000] who can punt 43?"
Hoffman's knack for identifying players with strong legs and the guts to perform under NFL pressure has provided Dallas with two second-year booters who are making names for themselves: Cunningham from Southwestern Louisiana, and Gowin from North Texas. Cunningham has made 57 of 64 field goals since arriving last season. Gowin, after a mediocre rookie year in which he averaged 41.8 yards per punt, has improved his average to 44.1 yards this year. He doubles as the team's kickoff specialist.
Gowin and Cunningham, both 5'10" and 167 pounds and roommates on the road, understand the Cowboys' stance on kickers. "Their philosophy gives young guys like me and Toby a chance," says Cunningham. "The first year I tried out , Dallas had me, Boniol and Jeff Wilkins in camp. Now we're all in the league. Steve knows what to look for in kickers."
Hoffman became sold on Gowin when he visited North Texas on a day the winds were blowing about 20 mph. Hoffman offered to reschedule the tryout, but Gowin refused. Gowin's confidence and the fact that his punts knifed high through the wind caught Hoffman's eye. Now Hoffman thinks Gowin could become the first punter-kicker in the NFL since Frank Corral of the Los Angeles Rams in 1981. "In practice I'm pretty comfortable from 60 to 65 yards," Gowin says. "But I can't imagine the extra pressure of kicking field goals in games."
After battling for the Cowboys' kicking job in 1994, Cunningham was a '96 training-camp cut of the Green Bay Packers. Hoffman brought him back in '97 after Boniol left for the free-agent riches of the Philadelphia Eagles, and Cunningham won the job in the preseason.
Both Gowin and Cunningham, who are making the minimum this season, are scheduled to become restricted free agents after the 1999 season. The Cowboys will most likely offer them the minimum again and watch them leave if they get significantly better offers elsewhere. "Maybe we can be the ones to change Jones's mind," says Cunningham. Not likely. "I never stop looking," Hoffman says. "I've already got a punter in mind, a guy doing an internship on Wall Street."