There’s a reason why they don’t make movies about punters.
They catch it. They follow a handful of technique-related checkpoints. They go through their steps. They punt it.
Then they repeat it, over and over and over again. Not exactly exciting stuff, unless you’re a lonely punter on the far field at the LaBar Practice Complex, honing your skills.
“No tweaks,” said Ben Turk, a senior, who averaged 40.7 yards or better in nine of the last 11 games of the 2011 season, including each of the last seven games to finish the year with a 40.3-yard mark.
Turk hopes to build upon last year's success.
“I’m really just working fundamentals right now. Back to basics. That’s all it is: my fundamentals and my basics. Getting those down and just being able to execute them in games.”
Turk, the St. Thomas Aquinas product from Fort Lauderdale, Fla., has had to battle some of the anxiety that comes with being center stage on a football field with millions of people watching. Turk has consistently won the punting job on the practice field, but it hasn’t always translated on game day.
He averaged just 38.2 and 38.3 yards per punt his first two seasons with the Irish, and was off to a 33.8-yard start through two games in 2011. Of course, punting stats can be misleading when you factor in attempts inside the opponents’ 20-yard line, an area of Turk’s game that always has been solid. (Fifty-three of his 147 punts -- .340 -- have landed inside the 20, and 52 of his punts have been fair caught.)
But Turk had difficulty making in translate in games, and thus, was at the crossroads to some extent with the arrival of kicker/punter Kyle Brindza last fall.
“I was trying to crush the ball and just finally kind of relaxed,” said Turk of his early 2011 woes. “I don’t know if it was so much trying to crush it as it was bringing the game speed down and relaxing and knowing I could do it, and then executing after knowing I could do it.”
Brian Kelly hinted that it might have been a bit of “stage fright” for Turk, who bristles a bit when hearing the phrase.
“I don’t think it was stage fright as much as it was just translating my practice into games,” Turk said. “I needed more game-like repetitions in practice. So going into the games, I wasn’t ready for it. Later in the season, once I had a feel and got a groove, I started hitting the ball better.”
Turk began incorporating some rugby-style punts into his repertoire, and suddenly his conventional attempts became more consistent.
“The rugby (style punts) have always been in the package,” said Turk, who averaged 41.6 yards per his final 44 attempts of the ’11 season. “It depends on what coverage we’re going against and what returner we’re going against.”
For Turk, it was more about finding a groove.
“When you have people coming at you, you subconsciously start moving faster,” Turk said. “It’s just trying to control that. Staying shorter, staying slower, but still with speed because you still have to get the ball off.
“I have zero blocks in my career here. So I’m getting the ball off quick enough. Now I just need to relax.”
Turk says he’s dropped about 15 pounds (10 according to fall and spring listings) since the start of last season. Not for any particular reason, just eating healthier and getting in tune to his body a bit more now that Notre Dame has a nutritionist on hand to monitor the football team.
“I feel a little quicker, a little lighter,” Turk said. “My leg speed is a little faster. I think that helped me toward the end of the season.”
At 5-foot-11, 186 pounds, Turk is, incredibly, the second strongest player on the team in terms of bench press repetitions, which is the benchmark used by the NFL at the annual February combine in Indianapolis. Only Braxston Cave has surpassed Turk’s 29 reps of 225 pounds among the players on the 2012 roster.
“I’m ready,” laughed Turk of the February 2013 combine.
For now, however, it’s slow and steady, be quick but don’t hurry, build upon last year’s success.
“My next step is just carrying on from the end of the season to the beginning of this season,” Turk said. “I know I can do it. It just comes down to executing.”