The Best Player No One Wants to See
Maryland junior Travis Baltz should be pretty happy with himself. After all, for a guy who sees the field only a handful of times per game, he sure has received considerable hype in recent months. Baltz was a consensus preseason all-ACC selection and one of nine players included on the watch list for the 2009 Ray Guy Award, which honors the nation's top punter.
And yet Baltz's response to all the attention is muted by one minor detail: "It's kind of a thing where nobody wants to see the punter out there, you know?" Baltz said. "It's like a disappointment play. I guess we have to do well on that play. It's an important play, but you know, you don't want to do it too much."
Baltz ranked first in the ACC in punting last season (41.1 yards per punt) and landed 39 percent of his punts (24 of 61) inside the 20 yard-line, good for second in the conference.
But Baltz's development was a steady progression rather than a incendiary rise. Back home in Whitehouse, Ohio, this summer, Baltz saw a highlight tape from his freshman year of high school and turned red at the sight.
"I was sitting there laughing at the dumb things I was doing on the tape," Baltz said. "Some of it was field goal kicking and just taking awful steps and with punting, I was catching the ball and taking, like, five steps before I kicked it. I just looked awful, and I was like, 'Oh, I hope nobody sees this ever again.' "
Even during his freshman and sophomore years at Maryland, Baltz said he underwent considerable growing pains.
"In past years, we've had great coverage, and when I was a true freshman I had plenty of punts, and even last year I had plenty of punts that weren't that good and I kind of put us in a bind, and they've done a great job covering," Baltz said. "And obviously, that's what you've got to do as a team -- when one guy struggles, another guys picks him up. Hopefully this year I won't put 'em in a bind any. I hope we can continue to improve upon that."
One area in which Baltz has focused on improving is his preparation in the moments before the snap. After making sure everyone is lined up correctly and getting a sense for how aggressively the defense might charge, Baltz decides where he will aim the ball. And then he tries to completely remove the game of football from his mind.
"I have in my head what I want to do, but I just try to think about something else to take my mind off it and relax a little bit," Baltz said. "Sometimes I think you get a little too tight when you're thinking too much. At least, that's been the case with me in the past. I just need to relax a little bit before the snap."
To calm his nerves, he takes a deep breath and he thinks about Gaba, or Florence Baltz as she was more commonly known. Gaba was Baltz's grandmother, and while she occasionally watched Baltz play, Baltz said he wasn't sure how much she really understood about the sport. However, that didn't mean Gaba was bereft of competitive juices.
"When we played cards with her, if you beat her in a hand, she might punch you," Baltz said of Gaba, who stood 5 feet 4. "It's kind of weird being scared of your grandma."
Gaba passed away a few years ago, but that hasn't kept her from being a presence in Baltz's thoughts in the moments before his scare opportunities to make an impact on Maryland's games.
"Obviously, it's an important job," Baltz said of punting. "Anytime you're dealing with field position, it's a large chunk of yards. I guess it's not something you directly see in the yardage count. I mean, if we trade punts and we net 45 yards and they net 35 yards, that's 10 yards right there; that's a first down. That's a big deal in a game. And that's not something you're going to see in a stat line, but that's a big deal. And if you can do that consistently, that's a big deal, so that's what we always strive for."
Posted by: HughGRection | August 12, 2009 10:12 AM | Report abuse
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