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Walk-on Wulfeck relishes chip on his shoulder

Mike Ginocchio | Wednesday, November 20, 2013

 

Graduate student punter Alex Wulfeck is accustomed to the road less traveled by.

He could have chosen a scholarship with other schools, but Wulfeck chose to walk on at Wake Forest. Still, he got himself a scholarship after two years of earning it on the field. Then, after an injury before his senior season caused him to lose his starting job, he turned down a scholarship offer from South Carolina to walk on at Notre Dame.

So why does he continually take the path of most resistance?

“I like being a walk-on because it’s kind of a chip on my shoulder,” Wulfeck said. “I know I could have gone somewhere else where they offered me scholarship money … because it just makes me work harder.”

Wulfeck showed a skill set for punting since he started playing football. He averaged 41.1 yards per punt in four years at The Bolles School in Jacksonville, Fla., helping his team to four district championships and two state titles. Wulfeck also recorded a career-long 67-yard punt and 26 kicks within the 20-yard line. For the Irish, Wulfeck takes on the role of the “pooch” punter, whose job is to pin the opposing offense as close to its goal line as possible. 

“I kind of like the mental game of it,” Wulfeck said. “But [a precise punt] is the fun part. It’s the highest reward because even if you hit a bad ball, it’s still going to be inside the 20 and you’re doing your job. I love it. It’s awesome.”

It’s also a very stressful position, a fact Wulfeck both acknowledges and embraces.

“You’ve just got to be mentally strong as a punter,” Wulfeck said. “If you’re going through a funk, you’ve just got to have confidence in yourself that, ‘I’ve hit millions of footballs and I know how to punt a football.’ It’s not like, say, a linebacker where you’re going to get in every play and you know you’re going to hit someone and you’ve got a lot of plays to do that. But in punting you’ve only got a few shots a game.”

Wulfeck worked his way up the totem pole at Wake Forest, going from a preferred walk-on to the starting punter his junior year, before ultimately finishing fifth in the ACC in punting average and earning a spot on the preseason All-ACC second team before his senior year. 

But then the coach who recruited Wulfeck was fired, and, after a preseason injury, he found himself second on the depth chart. Figuring it would be better to try his chances elsewhere, Wulfeck went looking for another team.

His high school and college pedigree was enough to attract the interest of the Gamecocks, who offered him a scholarship. Yet, Wulfeck chose the Irish.

“I just felt because we played Notre Dame twice in my career it was a good fit and I just felt that it was cool when you played Notre Dame,” Wulfeck said. “It was a weird feeling that no one else got if you’re on the other sideline. … But once you’re on the team you know what it is. It’s really cool.”

“It’s just a strange environment and I thought to myself that this is really cool, and that this was a game-day experience,” Wulfeck added. “I would say Thursday before the Temple game this season it hit me. Everyone was coming in, all of the fans, and I was like ‘Wait, fans come in on Thursday?'”

Wulfeck, who is currently studying for the MCAT, has plans to go into radiology like his father, Dennis. It’s not exactly the easiest of paths, but Alex has never been one to back down from a challenge.

“In taking medical school courses there’s a lot of pressure to do well,” Wulfeck said. “Same with punting: You only get one opportunity. … I live for that pressure. That’s what I build myself on and that’s what I go by every day.”

Contact Mike Ginocchio at mginocch@nd.edu