HUNTINGTON — Tyler Williams isn’t a golfer. He just sounds like one.
The Marshall junior isn’t talking about the swing with his 9-iron. It’s the swing of his punting leg that dominates his attention. He finished a season where he admits he struggled with a strong Military Bowl performance, and is using that to motivate him through the spring practice season, which ends at 2 p.m. Saturday with the Green-White game.
“It’s always good to end the year on a high note,” the Fort Wayne, Ind., native said, “because it always gives you a good estimate going into the offseason, saying I did this good, I did this bad. It kind of gives you more confidence, I guess, in the offseason.”
That confidence wasn’t always there in 2013. His averaged dropped from 45.2 as a freshman, when he was named to the Conference USA all-freshman team and a CollegeFootballNews.com freshman All-American, to 42.3 as a sophomore. He put fewer punts inside his opponents’ 20-yard line, falling from 16 two seasons ago to 13 last season.
Williams admitted there were periods of inconsistency. Those periods were there as a freshman, too, but they were bailed out by what he considered lucky bounces or punts that looked bad but became decent pooch kicks. Those were fewer in 2013.
“I can’t say I wasn’t hitting the ball as well as I was,” Williams said. “But I was just inconsistent and kind of had to work on different things — drops, my steps with direction and a couple new things we’re doing. It’s kind of changing things and trying to be consistent in everything I do.”
While punting may look simple, it isn’t. Punters attempt the perfect drop, placement and motion with each try, all with a horde of opponents — most bigger than Williams’ 6-foot, 194-pound frame — charging at them.
“There are intricacies in a golf swing, just as there are intricacies in a punt drop and a punt follow-through,” said Marshall assistant coach Todd Hartley, who oversees the Thundering Herd’s punt team. “You’ve got to be a technician, man. You’ve got to be a master technician in order to be good at it.
“Everyone thinks they can go out and ‘Happy Gilmore’ it out on the golf course,” he added. “Everyone thinks they can come out and punt and they can’t do that.”
Williams said he’s tried golf, but never found the patience for it. Hear him discuss the nuances of punting, and you’ll realize all his patience is reserved for that.
“With punting, if my first step with my right foot is an inch too long or if I hit my heel on my first right step and then I overextend on my left foot, it kills my drop,” he said, “then all my power’s going into the ground instead of up through the ball.
“It could be anything,” Williams continued. “It could be my drop was half an inch inside, it turned half an inch, the wind got my drop and my ball just dove. It could be so many different things. That’s what can be a little tricky, I guess.”
Two things have boosted Williams into this spring, where Hartley said he’s performed well. The first was his Military Bowl showing, as he averaged 40.6 yards and put four of his seven punts inside Maryland’s 20, including one that landed at the 8, one at the 5 and two at the 1.
He’s also used a little bit of technology. The Herd kickers have been filming their attempts on an iPad, then replaying them to see where they need to tweak things.
“It helps a lot,” Hartley said. “You can see a progression with Tyler Williams. From his freshman year to last year was kind of a drop-off, but you see he’s gone at it and he’s said, ‘Hey, what went wrong?’ and studied a lot of tape and tried to work on things.”
Contact sportswriter Derek Redd at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-348-1712. His blog is at blogs.charlestondailymail.com/marshall. Follow him on Twitter @derekredd.