By Sam Finley, EDN
Oregon punter Jackson Rice has heard the misconceptions about his position many times.
“Some people assume that we’re not athletic and we don’t work very hard,” said the 6’3, 225 pound junior from Moraga, California. “But we (as kickers and punters) all work our butts off, and we try to bring as much athleticism to our position as we can.”
He notes the allegedly laid back image of kickers is false because they start practicing earlier than the rest of their fellow Ducks.
“We’re the first guys on the field,” Rice explained. “We work on a lot of fundamentals, because the kicking game is very fundamental and mental. So we do a lot of visualization on and off the field, and we get our kicks in. We’ll do team periods (game drills) with the rest of the team, but we’re just always working on the little things all day.”
Because he is constantly working on the smallest details, it makes Rice able to clear his head before he punts a football down field.
“I’m honestly not thinking about much before the ball is snapped,” he claimed. “All I’m doing is getting myself in a calm, rested mindset so I’m ready. That way I’m focused on that ball and on that snap. Once that ball is snapped to me, it’s a go.”
Rice actually compares his approach to his craft to that of another sport.
“It’s actually very similar to golf in terms of how important the mental aspect of it is,” Rice said. “It’s all about what you can do after you’ve hit that bad one. You’ve got to be able to come back mentally strong and come and hit a really good one.”
Rice has hit plenty of good ones during his time at Oregon. He’s currently averaging 46.2 yards per punt this season, and could find himself at the top of the all-time punting list when his college career is over. He also knows if he’s kicked it the right way the moment his foot touches the ball.
“You can feel it when you’ve hit a good punt,” stated Rice. “You can feel it when everything hits perfectly. When you hit that sweet spot of the ball, you know you’ve hit it cleanly and everything like that.”
Rice takes particular pleasure in getting a corner kick that places the opposing offense back at their own one yard line.
“It’s a great feeling because I know I just helped out my team,” he explained. “But, at the same time, I expect that from myself with every punt and I know the coaches expect that from me. So it’s nothing out of the ordinary, but it does feel good.”
Of course, Jackson Rice only gets in to punt the ball so often. (Playing on a team that scores over 40 points a game will do that). But when Ducks have a rare three-and-out, he feels it’s his duty to be ready.
“It’s all about giving my team the best field position possible,” said Rice of his role on the squad. “We don’t punt a lot, which is great. I love the fact that our offense is scoring all the time. But when they do call on me, it’s my job to give our defense the most field to work with possible.”
Rice’s goals are fairly simple for what he’d like to accomplish during his last two seasons at Oregon.
“I’m just looking to keep up my consistency,” he claimed. “I feel like, to this point, I’ve done a fairly good job of that.”
In order to keep his performance sharp, he often tries to emulate punters he grew up watching, as well as his some of his college peers.
“I grew up an Oakland Raiders fan,” he said. “So Ray Guy is definitely one of my heroes from way back in the day. I also like their current punter Shane Lechler. In all honesty, I like some of the guys in our conference. Bryan Anger from Cal is a good friend of mine. But I’m always looking to see what punters are doing right and so I can learn from it.”
As for the upcoming matchup with Arizona State is concerned, Jackson Rice believes the Ducks will be fine as long as they remain focused at the tasks at hand.
“Everyone just has to play their game,” Rice stated. “As long as we can eliminate mistakes, eliminate turnovers, and play well on special teams, then I think we’ll be good.”
Sam Finley has been the EDN sports editor since June 2011. He welcomes your feedback or story ideas at [email protected]