Oct. 20, 2014
By Jon Cooper
The Good Word
– The punter usually doesn’t make news at Georgia Tech.
In fact, with the Yellow Jackets’ powerful offense (34.4 points per game, fourth in the ACC) and Head Coach Paul Johnson’s penchant for going on manageable fourth downs, the punter is rarely on the field. That’s evident in the Yellow Jackets punting an ACC-low 18 times through seven games.
Redshirt sophomore punter Ryan Rodwell did make news and highlight shows back on Oct. 4 when he successfully ran a fake punt 10 yards on a fourth-and-five, allowing the Yellow Jackets to retain possession.
He’d pay for putting one over on the `Canes, as Rodwell, apparently trying to jump over Miami freshman safety Marques Gayot, was caught in midair by Gayot and body-slammed into the Grant Field turf. All was well, however, as Rodwell bounced right up and ran off the field celebrating with euphoric teammates.
The Deland, Fla., native has done a superb job in 2014, since taking over as full-time punter following Sean Poole’s graduation (As a freshman, Rodwell filled in for six games for the injured Poole, averaging 36.8 yards per punt, including a then-career-long 52 yarder). He is averaging 41.3 yards per kick, hitting six punts at least 45 yards and bombing 50-yarders in back-to-back weeks, including a career-best 55-yard kick at Virginia Tech on Sept. 20. He’s also been great at pinning Tech’s opponents back, dropping 61.1 percent of his punts (11 of 18) inside the 20, easily the highest percentage of any punter in the ACC.
Rodwell recently took time to talk with The Good Word about working behind “The Shield” when he kicks, getting on “ESPN’s Top 10” when he did not, and possibly surfing “The Net” to find a possible answer to better kicks.
THE GOOD WORD: What’s been the key to the superb year you’re having?
Ryan Rodwell: I like the new formation a lot, the Shield punt. I have a little more time to kick the ball. It’s kind of like a wall that protects you. [Opposing teams’ rushers] take the initial blow at the front and then they have to take another one at the shield. So it’s kind of like a double-layer, compared to what we did, where we would zone one side and the other was man. It was one wall and you were a little bit closer to the snap, so we had to get the ball off a little bit quicker. What’s worked so well for me is just training hard in the off-season, working on the little things, trying to stay focused and do the best that I can do to help my team out. I trained with `One-On-One Kicking®’ and `Kohl’s Kicking’ and worked on little things like drop, smaller steps, being explosive to the ball, stuff like that. `One-On-One Kicking®’ really helped me grow throughout high school and into college. It’s helped me with my technique and everything that I do. I also worked a lot over the summer with snappers Sean Tobin and Trevor Stroebel to get more in sync and more in rhythm as we came into the season.
TGW: You’ve shown a great ability to flip the field with your kicks. How have your teammates recognized the job you’ve done?
RODWELL: These guys always have my back and I wouldn’t be able to do what I do without them, of course, blocking up front. We all support each other and we all have each other’s back, but they definitely rallied around me, especially after that fake. They all were very proud of me then. It’s been a good season and I hope we continue to get better.
TGW: What was the feeling like as you lined up then ran the fake punt against Miami?
RODWELL: It was just kind of take a deep breath, try to stay calm and just do what we’ve practiced, [Special Teams] Coach Ray [Rychleski] has been really helpful with that and getting us ready for the games. [The fake] was a call from Coach Johnson and we were going to run it unless the look wasn’t there. It was pretty nerve-wracking but I’m glad I got the first down. I didn’t really try to hurdle him. I tried to jump to the side. It was just the way he met me, kind of stood me up. I didn’t lower my shoulder or anything like that. I’m a punter first but it was exciting to play a different position for however long the play lasted (laughs). It was pretty exciting to see our fake and our team on SportsCenter, even though I think it was more for his hit rather than my getting the first down because he definitely gave me a big hit.
TGW: You easily lead all ACC punters in percentage of punts dropped inside the 20. What’s the key to your success?
RODWELL: Actually it’s just the position of the field that we have to punt it in. We’re always kind of punting into a short field, I feel like. It really helps me out placing the ball there and not worrying about having to hit this big ball, rather than just kind of being consistent and fluid and putting it where it needs to be, work on that positioning.
TGW: Can you control the way a ball bounces when you put it toward the sideline?
RODWELL: Not really. It also depends how fast the ball comes down. So if you hit a really tight spiral and it comes down pretty quick sometimes it’s going to kick forward. But you don’t really have too much control on which way it’s going to bounce. If the ball doesn’t turn over and kind of drops flat it will normally kick to the side but you always want to hit that consistent ball that kind of turns over in certain situations. But you can’t really control too much of what it does.
TGW: At a school like Georgia Tech you’d think someone would have come up with a theory on how to perfect that. Have you ever thought of throwing the question out to the Twittersphere?
RODWELL: I haven’t thought of one and I haven’t met anyone that has either. There’s definitely a lot coaches out there that have different techniques that work. Maybe I should open that up and see what I can get out of our student body here at Tech.
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