Football: Freshman specialists earn starting spots
Matt Gamber | Wednesday, October 14, 2009
Notre Dame’s veteran depth at key positions has kept several talented members of the freshman class off the field. That hasn’t been the case, however, for kicker Nick Tausch, punter Ben Turk and long snapper Jordan Cowart, who have all earned the starting gigs at their respective positions.
“I was hoping that was how it would be from the beginning,” Cowart said of all three starting as freshmen. “We’ve got the little trifecta going, as I like to call it.”
Cowart, the only snapping specialist on scholarship – sophomore short snapper Braxston Cave also competes for playing time on the offensive line – essentially won his job the day he signed to play for the Irish. But both Tausch and Turk had to compete with veteran returning starters to earn the No. 1 spot on the depth chart.
Tausch beat out junior Brandon Walker for the job during summer camp, at which time Irish coach Charlie Weis had said that the race wasn’t close. The freshman has been nearly flawless, as he has made 10 straight field goals – including all five he tried during Notre Dame’s 37-30 overtime victory over Washington Oct. 3 – and 15-of-16 extra-point attempts to lead the Irish in scoring with 45 points.
“I was a little bit nervous my first kick, but by the second time I went out there I felt like nothing was really going to change,” Tausch said. “I feel like I’m the type of kid that needs the first kick to figure out what’s going on. Then after that, everything is the same, just whether the distance is longer or shorter.”
Turk made his first start in Notre Dame’s last game against Washington and delivered punts of 40 and 39 yards, respectively. Weis opted to give Turk a shot after staging a weekly open competition for the job, which senior Eric Maust had previously held.
“I didn’t really concern myself with the competition,” Turk said. “I just went out to practice to try to get better every day, and whatever happened, just let it happen.”
As for Cowart – well, it’s almost automatic.
“The best thing with Cowart is you don’t notice him, that’s a good thing,” Weis said. “When you don’t notice the long snapper, that’s a good thing. It’s when you notice him that there’s a problem.”
From an individual standpoint, though, there was a time when getting noticed was a top priority for Cowart. As a high school player at the Fort Lauderdale, Fla., powerhouse St. Thomas Aquinas – which also produced Turk and senior offensive linemen Sam Young and Dan Wenger – Cowart took up snapping and was quickly promoted to the varsity squad as a freshman.
“I worked real hard and went to a bunch of camps, combines and competitions, placed pretty well and got my name out there,” Cowart said. “Luckily I went to a great high school, and that also helped out a lot.”
When it comes to performing on Saturdays, repetition is the key concept for Cowart, who said there hasn’t been much of an adjustment from high school to college. He’s fired back enough perfect snaps over the last four-plus football seasons to know what works.
“I don’t have a mantra or anything like that, but when I’m on the sideline I’ll just visualize previous games, previous snaps,” Cowart said. “I’ve noticed on the sidelines when I’m warming up that I’m having a tough time getting a tight spiral. But when I get on the field in that position, I haven’t messed up, so it works for me.”