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Farmer: After Anello and Ruffer, should a walk-on punt in 2011? (Sept. 23)

Douglas Farmer | Thursday, September 22, 2011

Catch the snap. Take a step or two. Drop the ball toward your foot, and boot the living daylights out of it.

So easy, a caveman could do it. Right?

Especially when the caveman undergoes years of specialized training and spends hours a week doing those four things: Catch. Step. Drop. Boot.

So why is it that junior punter Ben Turk can’t seem to figure it out come Saturdays?

Of the 79 punters in the nation to have played in each of their team’s games, Turk ranks 74th in punting average. His whopping 36.23 yards per punt somehow outpaces USC’s punter, Kyle Negrete. But Notre Dame does not make it a habit to measure itself against USC.

But what about measuring the Irish, specifically Turk, by the average Notre Dame student?

Alumni Hall junior Dan Finan cameos as the Dawgs’ punter in interhall games. It really is only a cameo — Finan is very obviously a defensive lineman at heart, and when he steps back to punt, his linemen shoes go with him.

Catch. Step. Drop. Boot.

For kicks and giggles, Finan punted for 20 minutes Wednesday night by moonlight on McGlinn Fields. With no training, hardly any idea of what he was doing and trouble seeing the ball as it dropped to his foot, the former 8-year-old soccer goalie sent two punts 50 yards deep. Factoring in the 14 yards Finan would stand behind the line of scrimmage, he sent two punts equal to Turk’s 36-yard average. If they had been allowed to roll, as six of Turk’s 13 have, who knows how far they may have bounced.

“My problem is consistency with the spiral,” Finan said of his two-for-20-minutes success rate. “I learned by messing around before practice in high school.”

So Finan equals the caveman with no training.

In that case, Stanford Hall junior Patrick Kramer equals the caveman who invented the wheel.

When Irish coach Brian Kelly took over the program, the skinny kid who once boomed a 72-yard punt in high school knew he needed to step up his game. He stayed on campus over the summer specifically to work on four things: Catch. Step. Drop. Punt.

On the first day of fall classes, Kramer got the call saying he was off the team.

Wearing his Walk-On Player Union Nation (WOPU Nation) t-shirt, Kramer brushed the rust off his leg Tuesday afternoon on North Quad. His longest punt landed more than 46 yards past the proverbial line of scrimmage. His five longest averaged more than 43 yards.

“I work in the dining hall now, and I do chemistry undergrad research,” Kramer said following what he considered to be a disappointed performance. “I’m not doing this everyday.”

Fortunately for Stanford Hall, he does it on weekends when interhall season starts up.

Catch. Step. Drop. Punt.

Yet Kramer seems to think his appropriate place is wearing faded gold pants with Stanford, rather than a sparkling new pair with the Irish.

“I’ve seen Ben [Turk] punt,” Kramer said. “He’s one of the top-20 punters in the nation, in practice.”

Irish special teams coach Mike Elston said the same thing.

“Ben demonstrates in practice that he can get it done,” Elston said.

Even Turk knows as much.

“In practice I’m hitting around 50 yards consistently,” he said. “It’s just turning that over to Saturdays now.”

Until he does so, questions of walk-ons, or cavemen, will persist. Turk’s best performance of the season, averaging 41.5 yards on four punts against Michigan State, only would have placed him 40th in the nation for the season. After that game, Kelly was asked, point-blank, how he would feel about a walk-on.

“Heck yeah,” Kelly said. “I would take anybody that had shown the ability to do that, punting the football or kicking … If you know somebody, you can reach me at 1-574…”

Actually, Finan or Kramer, or anyone else, should contact director of football personnel Tim McDonnell.

Catch. Step. Drop. Punt.

So easy, Ben Turk does it in practice. Is this the week he does it in a game?

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

Contact Douglas Farmer at dfarmer1@nd.edu