"Shut up, punk," a camper named Dustin tells one of the twins. "I've been playing pool since before you were born."
Derdenger backlash is also evident in a comment made by Shawn Sharp, a high school junior from Las Vegas with an encyclopedic knowledge of the MTV cartoon Beavis and Butt-Head. Says Sharp, "I kicked better than those guys when I was their age."
I don't believe him. What the twins lack in distance, they make up for in accuracy. They are terrific students, interrupting lectures with intelligent questions. On the field they instantly incorporate coaching tips. Their notes are as voluminous as those of a professional reporter—with the added advantage of being legible.
A punting-intensive night ensues. Despite not having played college football, Rob has made himself an oracle of punting knowledge. He lectures passionately on "the ball-foot marriage," the clear superiority of the underhand release, the desirability of "dual hip-lift." He takes special pleasure in roasting some old punting chestnuts. There is no such thing as "the drop," he says. "What you want is ball float-away." Momentum is overrated. Follow through? Who cares about it? "Nothing you do after impact has any influence on the ball," he declares.
He makes sense. As he puts us through drills, I can't help thinking that if I had met him earlier, I might not have spent so much of my life as a practice punter.
Did I say I punted for a major university? I meant a major I-AA university. Once. In an emergency. For the junior varsity. The fact is, punting has mocked me since I was Derdenger-sized.
As the second-string punter in ninth grade, I had only one kick all season, and it was blocked—a debacle captured on Ektachrome by my grandmother Lennie and frequently reenacted for the amusement of relatives and friends. Fast-forward to my freshman year at Colgate. To add to my limited worth as a drop-prone wide receiver, I volunteered to punt. Though I had never actually punted in a high school game, it had been my privilege, as a three-year backup, to boot 2,000-or-so practice punts. In the first week of fall camp at Colgate, I shanked a ball during punt-team drills, triggering near apoplexy in coach Red Kelin. "Murphy, you just wasted 22 guys' time!" screamed Kelin, who then quickly corrected himself: "Twenty-one—you don't count."
It is a testament to Rob's teaching skill that by the time he has taken us through his drills, I'm dying to punt. Applying what I've learned, I'm getting some nice spirals, getting a few balls to turn over. At one point, noticing that Rob is watching, I try to punt a bomb. The ball glances off my shin and goes 45 degrees to the left, over a 10-foot fence and into the cab of a pickup.
People are on edge today. The distance-kicking competition looms. My right leg feels as if it has been through a grain thresher. Ignore the pain, I tell myself. Acquit yourself nobly.