From his home in rural Nebraska, Sam Koch watched the draft, waited and wondered if his time would come. Would he be picked by a team or would be follow former teammate and punter Kyle Larson’s path in using free agency in finding a place to play? For a punter, you can say that the sixth round of the draft isn’t a long time to wait, which is where Sam Koch went, now a former Husker and a future Baltimore Raven.
“It’s great and I couldn’t be happier,” Koch said of being chosen by Baltimore with the 203rd overall pick in the 2006 NFL Draft. “I’m happy, I’m relieved and I’m just excited about my future in the NFL.”
Now don’t think that Sam’s story is one of someone going to the league, who wasn’t expected to in the first place. We know better than that. In fact, it’s the fact that so many were dubbing other punters as being better than him, which prompted a little confusion.
The confusion didn’t set in more than it did when Koch was compared to fellow Big 12 conference punter, Colorado’s John Torp, who had been as seemingly as celebrated for a punter since West Virginia’s Todd Sauerbraun, who went almost incomprehensibly in the second round to the Chicago Bears.
What Sauerbrun had, though, were statistics to say that he was indeed the best punter in the country.
Torp? Not so much.
When comparing Torp and Koch’s achievement side-by-side for the season of 2005, the only category Torp actually bettered Koch was in touchbacks. Torp finished with nine. Koch finished with eight.
The statistics weren’t enough to say that Sam was one of if not the best punters in the draft, though. ESPN actually had Koch ranked as the 7th best punter in the country. No All-American list, hardly a whisper for conference honors and he was certainly not someone who would get picked up in the draft.
You’d think that it would take a lesser person to say “I told you so”, but in Sam’s case, it isn’t the fact that he’s a lesser person when he says it. It’s the fact that he’s proven that he’s better than that, and for the better part of the year.
“Hey, let me punt in the stadium they have at Colorado and I could average 60 yards a kick,” Koch said of punting in the thin air at Boulder. “But that’s ok, because I know that even the Omaha World Herald did a story ranking the top punters and I wasn’t anywhere on the list.”
“I’m just glad that the NFL coaches actually took the time to look, because I knew what I could do. I just hoped they would notice.”
They did and Koch became the first punter taken in the draft, one of only two taken overall and the other wasn’t John Torp.
Koch’s had enough of trying to prove himself to others, though, because he’s entering into a realm, where there’s only one group he has to impress.
The Baltimore Ravens certainly didn’t have a horrible season last year, when it comes to punting the football. They actually ranked amongst the top 10 football teams in the league, five year veteran Dave Zastudil ending the season with a career best single-season average, booting the ball 43.5 yards per attempt.
The only problem with that is, he’s gone.
Via the free agency market, Zastidul went to the Browns, prompting Baltimore to bring in long-time punter Leo Araguz and signing him to a one-year deal. Araguz first came into the league in 1996 and spent last season with the Seahawks, where he averaged 40.2 yards per punt.
He’s 35, though, whereas Koch isn’t even 24.
Sam knew this after looking at the Ravens and while former Husker punter Kyle Larson certainly had a great situation in free agency in being able to basically choose where he would be needed the most, Koch sees that opportunity with the Ravens. “You still have to earn the job and I’ll have to go out there and compete against a real veteran, but I know what I can do,” Sam said. “Besides, at my age, I obviously have potentially a long career in front of me. With Araguz, you don’t know.”
Those are questions to be answered, which will come in time. But it’s the fact that even before the draft was over, Koch had a chance to think about the time between his time as a freshman to the point he is at now. It’s like one of those award shows, when you head up to the podium and you know you have to give credit where it’s due.
“Kyle was such a big impact on my career, because I just followed him and he showed me basically how it’s done,” Sam said of former punter Kyle Larson. “And coach (Scott) Downing was also a big impact on my career.”
“From them to my family for putting up with all the stuff you have to go through to get to this point, there’s been a lot of support in my life. That’s what has made this really possible and really mean something right now.”
Koch is set to join the Ravens during the second week of this month, joining Husker teammate Cory Ross, who the Ravens picked up in free agency. Koch’s thoughts linger to training camp, what he has to do to make the team and ensuring that this opportunity won’t pass him by.
Of course, when you are heading to the Ravens, your thoughts linger somewhere else, perhaps wondering just what it will be like when that inevitable time happens when a punt doesn’t go quite the way you wanted and you walk off to the field, only to face him.
The overriding personality of the Baltimore Ravens. One of if not the best players in all the league at his position and certainly the most animated, even passionate. What would you do if you shanked a punt and waiting for you on the sidelines was Ray Lewis?
“I don’t know, he’s a pretty intense figure,” Koch said of the multi-time pro bowler. “I guess he probably wouldn’t say too much if it’s once. But I don’t think I would want to get into the habit of it.”
It’s a heck of a thing a special teams player trying to earn respect, especially when that team has a personality as dominant as that of Lewis. Sure, you can punt the ball a mile and over the course of a season, that’s probably going to get at least a nod of satisfaction if not the respect Koch wants.
There is another way, though, something that Koch relishes the thought of and hopes that he gets a chance to do. It’s a little ironic that one of the questions he was asked as he was down in Baltimore working out for the team, had nothing to do with actually kicking the ball.
“They wanted to know if I had any problems tackling someone,” Sam said. “Heck, I can’t wait to tackle someone. If you want to get a team’s respect, that will probably do it as good as anything I guess. If a guy breaks free and you are it, make sure you knock the heck out of him.”
Sam is reminded of the time he did just that, but to a teammate during practice over a year ago. Just a freshman at the time, wide receiver Terrence Nunn gets the punt, makes a few moves and there he is with just one guy to beat.
It’s humiliating for anyone to actually get taken down by the punter, but from what Sam said, this wasn’t just a take down. This was an all-out-hit-you-so-hard-your-relatives-say-ouch kind of hit.
He knows smacking someone like that in a real game would get respect in a heartbeat.
“There’s only so much you can do as a punter to try and get a team’s respect. Yeah, make the punts, but I think about that hit I made and I know that wouldn’t hurt,” he said. “When you look at guys like Lewis, that’s probably the one thing he’d appreciate about what I do.”
Whether or not Koch is crushing ball carriers doesn’t matter. He’ll certainly be crushing footballs. His gross average of over 46 yards per punt would have ranked him as the top punter in the league last year. That would be nice to repeat that during his rookie campaign with the Ravens, but Sam is keeping his sights on what got him to the point he can even t
“I worked hard to get to this point and I just have to keep working like that to get a little farther,” he said. “It’s been a long road, I guess, but when you look at my life, it’s definitely worth it for me.”
“We’ve never had money, so this is going to be a nice reward for my family and they deserve it after everyone we have all been through.”
“For me, to succeed, I know I just have to keep doing what I have been doing. It’s been pretty good to be so far.”