Punting requires only modest coordination. I am not downgrading it—punting is my business—but I have always considered it remarkable that with so many boys in the country playing football, so few know how to kick a ball for distance and accuracy. There is. in fact, an acute shortage of good kickers. Often pro teams pay big salaries to players who merely run in, kick the ball and come out five or six times a game. In my case this is not entirely true since I double as a defensive halfback.
Punting is basically a composite of small skills, each requiring much practice, and the total even more. Many players become discouraged trying to adapt to some prescribed punting form. This is a mistake. Each man should alter the orthodox to fit his physical makeup. Below and on the following pages you will find that I frequently differ from accepted punting procedures. For example, the way I stand—with my nonkicking foot forward—is a puzzle to football coaches, most of whom advocate 1� steps as opposed to my three-step method. Well, I may be wrong and they may be right, but with all the things I do wrong I still have led the National Football League in punting or have been among the top four for the last four years. If you are not punting successfully or feel uncomfortable punting, then you should modify the rules to fit your needs.
Personally, I am short for a punter—5 foot 11. The tall, rangy man is the one most likely to have the excellent leg snap so vital to producing long, booming kicks. But punting is an unnatural art, and I have never found size nearly as important as an ability to adjust to the difficult and sometimes even painful technique of exercising violently while standing tiptoe on one leg.
When I first report to training camp, it is almost like learning to kick all over again. My muscles are stiff and unyielding, and I begin a slow steady routine. Spreading my legs far apart, I lock my hands around the right knee and pull my forehead to it to loosen the hamstring muscle of my right (kicking) leg. Rotating my hips from an erect position, I loosen the groin muscles. For general muscle tone I run and do sit-ups, and begin my kicking, first without a ball, going through the kicking motion gingerly, so as not to cause a tightening in my thighs. I repeat a rapid-fire sequence of these exercises before every game. During the first two weeks of training I kick the ball lightly, only for form, and do not begin to use full power until the third week, by which time I am kicking effortlessly and with complete control. The secret of effortless control is to make the exact same moves every time.
Still, a kicker, like a baseball player, experiences slumps and sometimes must resort to movies to find the flaw in his timing or action. Everybody can learn to kick the ball well, using the examples that follow. The persons who will kick best, though, will be the ones who practice longest.
READY FOR THE SNAP
From the time I settle into position until the ball is kicked, my eyes are on the ball. (Never mind the rushers; you're supposed to kick, not run.) At Detroit the center is on his own, no signals are called, so I must always be ready for the snap. I stand 14 yards behind the center, slightly bent at the waist, my weight evenly distributed, knees flexed and my left foot about six inches forward but not anchored. I must be balanced for the unexpected. Passes go awry, even in this league. Not to be alert is intolerable; remember you usually punt uncomfortably close to your goal. As a safeguard, I find that by touching my little ringers together, my hands spread to form a cup, I am less likely to fumble the snap (on the few occasions that I dropped the ball, I recalled later that I didn't have my fingers together). Already I have looked to see if the defense is overloading (concentrating their linemen on one side or the other). I will kick away from the concentration. That way, defenders flaring in have small chance to affect the play. By the time they reach you, the ball is gone.
HOLDING THE BALL
When the ball reaches me, I quickly bring it into position in front of and across my body at the level of my right hip. The heel of the ball is covered by the palm of my right hand, the thumb at the midseam. The nose is cradled in my left. With two seconds to get the kick off, I fix the ball as I take my first step.
STEPPING OFF A KICK
Probably 95% of all bad kicks are due to poor drops. My right hand controls the ball and is responsible for the release. The left acts as a gentle guide and never exerts pressure. I take what amounts to three steps before making contact with the ball. The first, a jab or half step with my left foot, points in the direction I hope the ball will go. My hands bring the ball into position as I take a second step, on my right foot. On the third step, I cock my kicking leg (third drawing) and lock my ankle with the toes turned down and in. For an ordinary kick (middle ball), I release the ball just below the waist level and meet it slightly above the knee. For a towering kick, I incline the nose of the ball up, then release it above the waist (top ball) and hit it at thigh level. For a low kick, I drop the ball at the thigh, hit it just below the knee (bottom hall). This last kick is especially helpful when punting against the wind, the lower arc allowing it to cut the air for greater distance.
POINT OF CONTACT
It is the low thud, not the big boom, that signals the tight, spiraling 60-yard punt. To get a spiral (and better distance), the laces must be pointed up and to the outside. When they are pointed straight up, the ball will travel end over end. Most punters try to kick low on the instep, the ball at a slight, 20� angle to the shoe (upper sketch). I strike unusually high on the instep (bottom), the ball at almost right angles with the line of the shoe. This is extreme.
It is essential that I maintain my balance in the follow-through. If I fall back or to the side, I limit both the direction and the distance of the kick. Stability is always a problem for punters, but it is even more difficult for me because of my extremely high kick and a violent whipping leg motion that ends with my right foot on a level with my left ear. These conflicting motions—the foot coming up and across the falling ball—give me long, spiraling punts. My arms act as balance weights and allow me to come down at the spot where I started the kick. This is extremely important, since I must move quickly back into my zone of defensive coverage—opposite to the direction of the punt.