Billy Kinney is West Virginia’s own “do-it-yourself punter.”
In an era where athletes are made, not born, where they watch what they eat, how they sleep, study you anatomically and measure your speed, your strength while clocking your release of the ball, the angle of the kick, the speed with which it comes off your foot and how many times it spins in a 40-yard arc — or so it seems — Billy Kinney did it himself.
OK, it wasn’t all by himself. His father helped.
But all those fancy kicker camps, those individual teachers … that wasn’t the route he took.
He started like so many kids, kicking a ball on a soccer field.
“I played soccer until the ninth grade, then I transitioned to football,” the Mountaineeer junior said the other day. “I mostly played soccer because my brother played. After my freshman year I didn’t want to play soccer any more but my parents were like, you got to do something. Go kick with the football team. So I just went over and did that.”
Folks, it ain’t that easy.
If you don’t believe it, go get a football and go to the nearest open field and try to kick it 50 or 60 yards — remember you punt from about 10 yards BEHIND the line of scrimmage. Oh, and while you’re at it, make sure you get a four second or so hang time out of it.
Then, if it still isn’t challenging, have someone flip the ball to you, catch it, get it off in less than 1.2 seconds, hit in a certain direction and do it while five guys are bearing down on you.
Get the picture?
So how, starting in the ninth grade, did Kinney come to the point that in his first season of college football action he was fourth in the Big 12 and 48th nationally in punting average at 41.7 yards?
“It was kind of me and my Dad going out and working out things. We’d watch YouTube videos,” he explained. “We just watched videos, read things and figured it out ourselves. It was trial and error. At the beginning, it was more error than trial.”
Now there’s a 21st century punter for you
“We didn’t really know anything about it. We just looked stuff up. I didn’t really start taking punting seriously until the senior year in high school,” said Kinney, who also serves as WVU’s holder for field goals and extra points.
And that was a year he suffered a serious leg injury while playing for University High in Morgantown.
He spent his first two seasons with the Mountaineers on the sidelines, which come to think of it, isn’t a whole lot different than being the starting punter.
Let’s put it this way. You may punt five times a game. Each punt may take 10 seconds of playing time. That’s 50 seconds out of a game that runs over three hours on most occasions.
What does a punter do with all that down time? Kinney explained his normal game day the stadium.
“We’re usually the first ones to warm up, then we have to wait for a while while everyone else warms up. We have to figure out ways to stay warm. We try not to think too much, so we’ll just pass on the sideline, joke around … just trying to stay calm,” he said.
“We take it very seriously, but we try not to put too much pressure on ourselves.”
Then the game starts and he becomes a player .… and a fan.
“It’s a little bit of both,” he admitted. Before I came here I was definitely a huge fan. It’s awesome to watch us win, but also to be a part of it.” he said.
Practice days aren’t much different.
“We get out early, warm up, work on some form drills, try to work on some directional punts. We don’t want to overkick … just enough so we’re ready to kick in practice. On days we’re not kicking I’ll work on non-kicking drills, so I’ll work on my drops or dry runs,” he said.
It’s a fine line on how they push themselves.
“Maybe it’s more like a pitcher in baseball. It’s like we don’t want to pitch too much and throw out our arm, but we can still always do drills,” he said.
And, like the position players, there are meetings, too.
“Mostly we watch film of ourselves. During game week we watch film of the other team, but mostly I try not to pay too much attention to it. I don’t want to see what’s going on and take my concentration off my kicking,” he said.
“We do look to see what their returner does, how we can kick away form him. But that’s really coaching. It isn’t on me. All I have to do watch my form.”
And no, they don’t practice tackling, but you already knew that if you ever saw a punter trying to make a tackle … apologies to Pat McAfee.