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October 3, 2009

Laces Out Jeremy!...Or On Top

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He doesn't fit the stereotypical mold of a football player.

At 6-foot-1 and a generous 180 pounds, he doesn't scream gridiron. Even though he might not get the recognition of the players that show up in the stat sheet, senior Jeremy Moore doesn't mind.

"That's fine, it's not a big deal to me," he said. "A lot of people say that and maybe they mean it, maybe they don't, but I really don't. I play football for my friends, the guys that are here that are teammates and for my family. It's not a glory position and it never will be. I know that going in and I know that now. Would it be nice to be the starting quarterback and have everybody turn their head when I walk in? Of course it would be, but I'm not looking for that."

He might be one of the least glamorized, but there are few players on the Toppers as valuable as Moore. As punter, it's his duty to get WKU out of trouble when the Toppers are penned on their own side of the field, as well as putting the opposing team deep in their own territory when the situation merits.

And there's no one WKU trusts more to come through.

"He's just gotten better," coach David Elson said. "I think he's worked at it, he's been very consistent, he's got a very good demeanor. He doesn't get really high, he doesn't get really down, he just kinda stays the course and I think that's really helped him. He's a hard worker. I think he really enjoys being here and that motivated him even harder to get ready to be the punter."

When sophomore Casey Tinius or senior Zac Minturn kick field goals this fall, there's one player they'll trust to have the football ready for their disposal. Moore doubles as WKU's holder, with his duty to catch the ball when it's snapped and place the ball on the ground just right to be kicked.

And like in the movie, Ace Ventura: Pet Detective, Moore knows there's one way both kickers and nearly every other kicker want the ball spotted: laces out.

"No question, if I ever leave laces in and they kick 'em, coaches and other players are all over it," Moore said. "They love to give us a bad time about it. That's good, because that keeps you focused, that keeps you in the right mindset. If I ever miss it, somebody's right there to let me know that I did."

Kicking, in any form is a science. In all forms, field goals, punting, kickoffs, it takes a measure of consistency and being mentally sharp. WKU's kickers, Moore included as punter, even sought the advice of a psychologist last year.

"She said, don't say negative words, like 'Don't miss right' or 'Don't drop the ball outside,'" Minturn said. "What everybody's told me and everybody else is don't think about anything. Just go out there with an empty mind and it'll be what you need to see. The majority is mental. If you have something small on your mind, you're probably gonna screw what you don't want to happen up."

The same mental aspect applies to holding as well, Moore said. It's a matter of blocking everything out to concentrate on doing the exact same thing, the exact same way each and every time, the same way with punting.

"Getting down on a knee and catching a snap, physically, it's not that hard," Moore said. "A lot of people can do it. But to do it the same way every single time, that's where the mental part comes in. I don't think most people realize, not only how difficult it is, but the importance of that play. It's kinda just something that gets overlooked."

Many punters and kicker spend years working on their craft. Moore was a little behind. Whereas many punters and kickers begin learning skills playing soccer, Moore was more occupied with another sport, baseball. He began kicking in middle school and after a search by his pee wee team for a kicker, Moore took to it, becoming the starting punter by high school, at Indianapolis' Cathedral High School.

But Moore had aspirations of playing baseball, until his special teams coordinator spoke with Elson, a Cathedral alum. Moore was given a preferred walk-on status at WKU and earned a scholarship last year his junior season.

"Coach Elson and the program do a really good job of, they don't treat walk-ons any different than scholarship players," Moore said. "I think if somebody would come in here that didn't know the difference, I don't think you would ever know who was on scholarship and who wasn't. It's tough to pay for your own way. It's tough to think that you're good enough and believe in yourself, 'I should be a scholarship player.'"

Moore took over the punting duties as a starter in 2007, as a sophomore averaging 41.7 yards a kick. Last season, his average dipped down to 36.9 yards. But special teams coordinator Stuart Holt said he's not worried about Moore's loss in average to affect his mental approach.

"It happens and you've gotta work yourself out of it," Holt said. "He's had a good summer and a good fall. It's just one of those deals. It's no different than playing any other position. Some years you have big time years, some years you don't. I'd say last year he was sufficient, but didn't really excel at times like he did the previous year."

Moore has put in the extra work this summer and through fall camp and he's also taken a different role among WKU's 'Specialists.' The group that includes the long snappers, punters and kickers doesn't spend an entire practice working like the rest of the team. They contribute when needed, but spend many practices on the sideline, working on their own or watching.

As a senior, Moore is now the unofficial leader of the group.

"We're just called 'The Specialists' I guess," Minturn said. "I'm sure other people have nicknames for us that we don't know about. We're all real close friends and it's just a real good, tight group of people. Jeremy's been through a lot of stuff and we follow what Jeremy does."

The past few years, Moore's followed kicker Chris James, then Tanner Siewert, picking up things from each. James was Moore's 'big brother' in a program the football team has to help younger players get acclimated.

"He taught me how to be humble, he taught me how to lead, because there's not a lot of rah-rah cheerleading with the specialists," Moore said. "The way that you lead these guys is you show them how things are done and you help them in what they do. Being around here and the amount of hard work that we're asked to do, teaches you to be a leader, no matter what position you are."

So far, it's been evident to the Toppers that Moore has improved from last season's slight drop off in production, in part to his new role.

"When he would hit a bad ball in the past, he would really get down and have a hard time moving to the next rep," Holt said. "He's really improved that. He understands whether he hits a good ball or an average ball. He really doesn't hit any bad balls, but if he gets a good one or an average one, that one's gone and he's gotta move to the next one."

Moore has applied what he's learned to holding as well. WKU spends a lot of practice time working on special teams, including field goals, ending each practice on a 'field goal to win.' But there's extra work being done on the sideline, too, learning each other's preferences.

There's also been the task of getting things down with a new long snapper, redshirt freshman Chris Young. Moore is the only player receiving the snaps, whether as punter or long-snapper.

"Chris Young's one of those guys that every single day, we go off to the side when we're done kicking with the team and we take 50-100 snaps," Moore said. "We work on everything. We try to get his velocity back there and we try to hit that exact spot."

The two have worked even more on incorporating a rugby-style punt that the coaching staff has installed, in which Moore rolls to the right after receiving the snap, to punt. Whatever style, Young plays a huge part in whether Moore gets off his 'perfect punt,' a 45-yard bomb with a hang time of about 4.5 seconds.

"The snap would hit me on my right hip," Moore demonstrated. "That's the optimal point where I can catch it with my hands down and I don't have to adjust, I can just catch it and extend my arm directly from where I catch it. My left foot's forward, my right foot's back and this is the snapper's aiming point, is my right hip flexor. If he tries and hits it right there, I catch it palms down to where I can just…if I catch it, my hand is already right there. All I have to do is extend.

"The ball would come out my hand perfectly, I'd drop it just above my waist and I would make contact about where my thigh is, height-wise and just explode right up through it. I'd come completely off the ground and when I finish, my head's gotta stay down."

There are plenty of casual fans who have no idea, all the intricacies of punting and holding, let alone if Moore has truly kicked the perfect punt. But that's ok by him. When you see a WKU kick sail through the uprights, or a punt that sails down-field, you'll know he's done his job.

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