Hunter Smith: Punting is Like Golf
Chatting at 11. Submit questions here. Ask me whatever the heck you want. Also, I'm at Nationals Park right now. The clock says it's 6:24. Not sure if that means AM or PM.
In 1998, the Redskins--led by punter Matt Turk--finished second in the NFL in net punting average. Second is good.
In the decade since then, here's where they've finished in that category: 25th, 18th, 20th, 31st, 21st, 21st, 20th, 19th, 21st, 32nd. That's 10 straight finishes in the bottom half of the League, occasionally at the very very bottom. That's not good.
Hunter Smith is here to start turning those numbers around. The 31-year old helped Indy finish in the Top 12 in that net-average category during four out of the past six years. Maybe this isn't the Lakers acquiring Pau Gasol, but it would be an improvement, anyhow. To make sure he knew what he was up against, I asked Smith whether he was familiar with the team's recent history at his position.
"Sure," he said. "And it's one of those things, I know a lot of the guys who have been through here. And there have been some really talented guys to come through here in the past nine or ten years, but just for whatever reason, sometimes the job just doesn't get done. For whatever reason that is, it really doesn't matter at this point. I'm excited to step into a place here, having a track record of being on a winning team and punting the ball pretty well, and [to] help us win."
Smith and his family still haven't bought a home in the D.C. area, although they intend to. That was one of the biggest differences in his life here vs. his life in Indy. And the changes on the field?
"Honestly, I think the biggest difference I see here, the level of special teams play here, the emphasis on it is really high," he said. "The coaching is very good. Not that I haven't been around really good coaching in my career, but in terms of we, as the Redskins, we see special teams as a key to winning, a major key to winning. And to be a part of that's really special."
Although Smith is young by punter standards, he's already an 11-year veteran of the League. Eleven years of swinging his lep up through pigskin like six billion times a year. There are a lot of great things about being a professional special teams player; some would argue it's among the choicest jobs in professional sports. But still, you'd have to think punters could occasionally get a bit bored by it all.
"I did when I was younger," Smith told me. "Having a few years behind me, it's kind of one of those things I've learned to enjoy. It's kind of like golf: the older you get, the more you appreciate golf. And I think it's kind of the same way for me, I really enjoy it. It is a lot of the same motion and everything, but you're able, especially at this position, as you get older [to still compete]. I'm younger, but a lot of guys play 10 or 15 years longer than I have already, and you can continue to be competitive in a professional sport. The older you get, the more your ability might deteriorate, but you're still able to be competitive and help the team win. Ad to me, that's fun."
For the record, Smith said he's available for kickoffs in an emergency and "would get the job done," that he used to be a placekicker, and that he once connected on a 50-yard try during practice in Indianapolis.
"I'm sure that means a lot to you," he said with a laugh, but to be honest, that's gotta be enough ammo for at least one nutty soul to suggest that Smith handle both duties this season. Only one direction to go, and all that. So why, you're wondering, did Smith choose D.C.?
"We just loved it here," he said. "We visited a couple places, and when we got here and met the coaching staff and went around the area and everything, we felt like this was the place we were supposed to be."
(Read more on Smith at the Washington Times. Yeah, it's June, and we've all already done the punter storyline.)
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