November 15, 2011

Tydlacka's talent comes from extra work

Despite what you might think, Ryan Tydlacka never gets tired.

Tydlacka has punted 62 times through 10 games this season. Only seven punters in the entire country have punted more than he has, but it's never been an issue for him.

The fifth-year senior spent all summer working out, punting the ball hundreds of time a day. Much of the time, he was working with his predecessor, Tim Masthay, who is now the punter for the Green Bay Packers.

They'd go outside every day and work on their technique, pushing each other. Often, they'd create competitions, trying to see who was the better directional punter or who could get more hangtime on his punts.

Most of the time, Tydlacka said, he won those competitions.

All that work has paid off for the team as well. Tydlacka, by any standards, is having an outstanding senior year and has proven himself as one of the best players on the team.

"He's done a good job for us," special teams coordinator Greg Nord said. "He's done most everything we've asked of him."

Tydlacka has a strong reputation around the program as one of the hardest workers on the team. He watches film of every punt from the previous game on Sunday, trying to see if there was any way for him to improve.

On Thursdays, he gathers all the film from the week of practice and goes over all of it for a few hours, checking to make sure he's not developing any bad habits. He also reads articles on punting and watches film of other punters.

The numbers certainly don't indicate he's developing any bad habits. He's second in the Southeastern Conference and among the national leaders, averaging over 43.3 yards per punt. But even those numbers don't always do him justice.

"There are a lot of times your average and even your net punt isn't reflective of how good you really are," Nord said. "There have been several times where we've played field position football and he's hit a 29-yard punt, which is actually pretty good because it gets our opponents inside the 10 yard line."

Tydlacka has just five touchbacks on the season, and not even all of those were his fault. On at least two occasions, his coverage team hasn't gotten to the ball in time to prevent a touchback.

Tydlacka's big season came at the perfect time for the Wildcats. As the offense struggles, a punter like Tydlacka is a boon for the defense. Long punts can handicap opposing offenses, giving them a huge stretch of field in front of them before they can score. Better yet, dropping punts inside the 10-yard line and even closer limit the playcalling abilities of an offense as they work to move to the center of the field.

"Anytime you can pin someone back when the game is close, it sets up the defense and helps turn the game around," Tydlacka said.

Masthay also taught him a new punt, called an "auffie" punt. It's a punt that puts an end-over-end spin on the ball with a kick to it when it hits the ground, used for pinning opponents deep in their own territory to start drives. It's an alternate to the rugby-style punt, and preferred to the rugby punt by many NFL teams.

It's a skill he'll likely have to develop to play at the next level. He has the talent to play in the NFL, Nord said. But landing a job as an NFL punter is one of the most difficult things to do in football. There are only 32 NFL punters, with no backups, and those jobs don't open very often. Masthay, for instance, sat a year out before the Packers signed him.

For now, though, Tydlacka is powering through his last season with the Wildcats. Kentucky head coach Joker Phillips has even joked at times that Tydlacka would be in the running for team MVP.

"He won't be MVP of the team," Phillips said. "But if we had to give an MVP in the special forces he would be it."

Kentucky's net punting average (yards after return) this year is 42.3 yards. That's better than the punting average of 80 FBS teams. That's just the kind of year he's having.

"I've been called talented and stuff, but being called MVP doesn't happen much for a kick or punter," Tydlacka said. "That's an honor and a good way for a senior to go out."

...More... To continue reading this article you must be a member. Sign Up Now!