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Martinizing the SoCon
The top punter in the Southern Conference didn’t start punting at all until he got to college. It was not his childhood dream to punt in college, let alone in the NFL.
Sam Martin is already punting in college at Appalachian State. He’s very likely to get a chance to punt in the NFL.
Martin did not see himself playing football when he was in high school. His sport was soccer, and he was good enough at it to attract offers from colleges.
But life can change fairly quickly. Now in his senior season, Martin is a veteran punter, and is also handling placekicking duties for the Mountaineers. Martin was not swept into punting until he kicked a few in practices and showed he had potential.
Going into the final game of the season at home against Furman Saturday, Martin is an NFL prospect. He may not get drafted, since it’s rare that punters or kickers get drafted.
But NFL scouts have told him he could end up in an NFL came next summer.
“I’m hoping. I don’t know how to talk about that topic,” Martin said. “There’s more than likely I’ll be in a camp. Getting drafted is not something I’m counting on. From my understanding, I’ll at least get some kind of free agent deal.”
It’s further than most punters across the country can get. It’s also a long way from where Martin was when he was playing soccer at Starr’s Mill High School in his hometown of Fayetteville, Ga.
Martin did not play football until his senior year in high school. Instead, he played center-midfield for Fayetteville’s soccer team, where he got enough notice to be offered scholarships by Auburn and Georgia State.
The Auburn offer fell through, but Martin had another option. Appalachian State assistant coach Dale Jones saw Martin kick and eventually recruited him to Appalachian State.
“I played soccer my entire life,” Martin said. “I kicked my senior year and got a little interest from a few SEC schools. Coach Jones was actually the one who recruited me. I actually was committed to play soccer at Georgia State and I had about six scholarships to play soccer, which I thought I was doing. I started getting interest from Auburn and Georgia to kick. I was kind of sick of soccer. Coach Jones came through. I had committed to Auburn and that fell through. Then coach Jones offered me, and I came up to visit and thought why not? It’s away from home and there are nice mountains and I haven’t regretted it since.”
Martin didn’t punt in high school, although he made a 49-yard field goal in a prep football game. Martin was supposed to handle placekicking duties at Appalachian State, but started punting to help out ASU’s punt return team during practice.
He started hitting some pretty well, and the coaching staff took notice. Neill Young was the punter and Adam Kassouf was the backup at the time. Jason Vitaris handled the placekicking.
“I started punting because I’d do punt return,” Martin said. “It was us three and Adam Kassouf, and they didn’t feel like doing punt return, so I’d go there and hit them and show sparks and (the coaching staff) told Neil, start working with me possibly for next year. One thing led to another. I picked it up pretty fast and started turning into a punter instead of a kicker.”
Martin handled all kicking responsibilities at the start of last season, but was regulated to punting and kicking off after struggling in a loss to Wofford. Martin missed three field goals in the 28-14 setback to the Terriers.
Martin’s punting has never been a problem. He ripped a 69-yard kick last season against North Carolina A&T and a 63-yarder against Chattanooga.
Still, his average was 40.0 yards per kick in his first three seasons, although he also put 55 punts inside the 20-yard line during that time.
Martin’s average improved to 45.1 yards per kick this season with 18 punts inside the 20. He has belted 10 punts over 50 yards with just five touchbacks. Opponents have called for a fair catch 21 times.
Martin said the ideal situation for him is to put a punt inside an opponent’s 20-yard line after kicking Appalachian State out of poor field position.
“If I’m punting from the other 35 and if I can put one inside the 20, then that’s great,” Martin said. “That’s a 55-yard punt and inside the 20. That’s ideal. Our red zone percentage has been pretty decent this year or at least on our half of the field.”
Martin’s other main responsibility at Appalachian State is kicking off. College rules were changed so that teams kick off at the 35-yard line this year instead of the 30. Touchbacks are put at the 25-yard line instead of the 20.
Out of 52 kickoffs, Martin has put 32 into the end zone for a touchback. He also saved a touchdown against Coastal Carolina by making a tackle on a return at the ASU 15-yard line, and another one against Georgia Southern when he made the tackle.
“Ideally, you just want to slow them down,” Martin said. “If you can just get them to change direction or stop his feet for a second, most of the time somebody’s going to come from behind. Personally, if I don’t make the tackle, I’m ticked off.”
Martin used to be just the long-yardage field goal kicker, but was moved back to the kicker for normal field goals and extra points after Drew Stewart struggled during the season.
Martin made 1-of-2 against Georgia Southern Saturday. He attempted to set the school record with a 61-yarder against Coastal Carolina, but the kick was short.
Martin’s longest field goal in a game is 51 yards, which he’s done twice. He made a 72-yarder during pregame warm-ups against Chattanooga. He hit the crossbar on a 75-yard attempt a few moments later.
Martin feels he could have made the 61-yard attempt with a little more warning, although it was his idea to try the kick in the first place.
“I was glad I got the chance, even if I came up just short,” Martin said. “I chunked it a little bit. I hit a little on the ground. I hit a 65-yarder before the game, so I went out there with every intention of making it. It was unfortunate I didn’t capitalize, but hopefully I’ll get another shot at it before the season is over.”
Once the season is over, graduating with a business marketing degree is next. So is a possible chance at the NFL.
“Ever since I started kicking, I’ve heard I have a NFL leg,” Martin said. “There are a million guys who have that. Now it’s starting to happen and scouts are actually starting to talk to me and, it’s weird to think I’m an NFL prospect. Never in a million years.”
He’ll find out sooner than that where he’ll play next season in the NFL.
by Steve Behr, Watauga Democrat