TAMPA — Punting, you might think, is all about having a strong leg. USF sophomore Justin Brockhaus-Kann hopes to show there is more to it this fall.
Brockhaus-Kann came to USF in 2008 with a reputation as a strong punter but wasn't able to get on the field in his first two seasons. This summer, seeing the starting job wide-open for 2010, he set out to improve his consistency, starting with a new technique for holding the ball.
"I changed my drop completely," said Brockhaus-Kann, a 19-year-old from Winter Springs. "Punting is all from the hand to the foot — it's 90 percent drop and 10 percent leg."
His new drop — holding the ball on the side "as if it's shaking your hand," he says — has made it easier to get a tight spiral on a kick, which allows the ball to travel farther. Previously, he said he used more of an underneath hold. Now, after a summer of Skip Holtz expressing concern he didn't have a punter, Brockhaus-Kann has shown enough in the first two weeks of camp to make the job his to lose.
"This summer boosted my confidence and my consistency," said Brockhaus-Kann, who will also serve as holder on field goals and extra points this season. "I've got to prove to (Holtz), and I'm a different punter now."
With last year's starter, Delbert Alvarado, graduated, Holtz said he has seen an encouraging change in his new punter and is finding the consistency he needs from the position.
"In the spring, he'd boom some, then the next three were off the side of his foot," Holtz said. "He's gotten that together, and the first week of camp he was really booming the ball. A good punter is very much like a golf swing, where you have to get to a point where it's the same swing every time."
Brockhaus-Kann's father, Jeff Brockhaus, was a college teammate of former USF coach Jim Leavitt at Missouri, and he still holds the Tigers' school record with an 82-yard punt against Kansas State in 1980. While that connection helped Brockhaus-Kann choose the Bulls, he said he has seen a greater emphasis on special-teams units under Holtz.
"It's way different from last year; we focus on special teams 10 times more than we did last year. Every day in practice, we're working on every type of scenario," he said.
Holtz and special-teams coach Vernon Hargreaves have high standards; their punter at East Carolina the past three years, Matt Dodge, ranked second in the nation last year, averaging 45.8 yards, and was drafted by the Giants.
Holtz has reminded his punters that Dodge didn't start out as an All-American but got there with steady improvement, adding at least 1.5 yards to his average in each of his three seasons.
"Brock has the chance to be that kind of player for us," Hargreaves said. "His consistency level is way higher this fall, and he's made us a lot more comfortable."
He has something else in common with Dodge: size you don't expect from a punter. Brockhaus-Kann is 6-2, 226, with an all-county nod as a high school tight end to go with all-state punter honors.
Holtz went into camp with an open competition between Brockhaus-Kann and freshman Chris Veron, but halfway through his preparations for the Sept. 4 opener, he knows who his punter is.
"At this point, Brockhaus-Kann would be our starter," Holtz said. "He's the clear-cut better punter, and it's because he's been more consistent."
Greg Auman can be reached at email@example.com and at (813) 226-3346. Check out his blog at tampabay.com/blogs/bulls and follow him at Twitter.com/gregauman.