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Pat the Punter is Piquing NFL Interest

Anthony Vega, Reporter

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Senior punter Patrick Newins concentrated hard when he took his second quarter punt during a game against Albright.

Get the ball out of bounds. If I can pin them deep, I can change the momentum, he thought.

Albright blocked and held a fortunate field position.

“It was the first time this season that someone was able to block one of my kicks,” Newins said. “I scrambled to find the pill and to at least prevent them from getting a [touchdown] from the block.”

Newins, a nursing major, finished this season with a 44.5 average, which led the MAC Conference. Ever since the 2014 season when he averaged 40.7 yards per punt – his longest that season was 67 yards – everyone from opposing coaches to NFL scouts began to take notice of his talent.   He was voted by coaches throughout the MAC Conference to first team All-Conference.

He was a kicker who had never punted before he was a Cougar.

“My first year was pretty nerve-wracking, being that I was the only kicker on the roster and had to do everything, from kickoffs and field goals to eventually punts. But once I was able to settle in and realized that all I do is kick a ball, it felt like second nature.”

In his first game of his junior season, Newins was injured during a kickoff. He was sidelined for five weeks, and once he came back, he was strictly limited to punting. He was still able to salvage the rest of the season, punting the ball 31 times with five punts over 50 yards and earning honorable mention to the All-Conference team.

He said his injury was a challenge because trainers and doctors said it involved his ACL, and he feared a long, painful recovery process.

“But that turned to elation when they figured out that it was solely my PCL, which meant I would be back in about a month.” he said. “In a way it was a blessing in disguise because it allowed me to focus on punting and really excel.”

And excel he has: This has been the punter’s most successful season. He finished with 19 out of his 55 punts going over 50 yards, 12 of them landing inside the 20 yard line. His longest of the season was 63 yards. He also finished fourth in punt average in the nation at the Division III level.

His senior season punt average put him in the top 20 in DI football.

His average is better than nine professional punters.

As the player’s days as a Cougar come to an end, he knows that he’s not done punting just yet.

“I’ve heard about a combine in Phoenix, Arizona that takes place in late February that has sent 15 guys to preseason NFL workouts last year alone, from other kickers we have played against. So I’m working on going there to see where it can take me.”

Newins has been the focus of attention throughout this season: A scout had come to watch Newins during a pre-game warmup early in the season.

“At first I had no idea who the guy was. Then I noticed the Washington Redskins logo on all of his things, and he was talking to the coaches and staff. After the game, the special teams coach told me he was watching me, which was pretty neat.”

Newins has a long couple of months before he figures out his fate. For a punter, senior games and regional all-star games will do very little to get Newins exposed to more NFL teams. He will have to travel to specialist camps and pre-draft combines to increase his chances of getting noticed. The more common pre-draft camps are designed for skilled position players. There are significantly fewer camps for punters, but Newins has the numbers to win admission.

Even with the boost from a  specialist camp, it may be nearly impossible for Newins to be drafted. The NFL drafted only three punters in 2015, all of whom were drafted during the last two rounds. Only 10 punters were drafted in the last five NFL drafts.

Newins said he’s up to the challenge of making an NFL team as an undrafted free agent.

“It would be a pretty cool to have the opportunity to make an NFL team. It would be something that I would consider a dream come true, but I wouldn’t have ever thought it would be as a punter,” he said.

Newins, who also plays lacrosse, will have to face the tough decision to come back for his senior lacrosse season in the spring or take the season off to focus on pursuing his NFL dream. This year’s draft will take place in late April, but Newins will find out his fate during the first week of May when NFL teams sign undrafted free agents. Even if Newins receives a phone call from a pro team, he has to still go to training camp and compete with other punters for the club’s starting punting job.

“It’s been an interesting process so far,” he said. “It’s cool to know that most of the punters in the league aren’t from big name schools. It’s also reassuring because even for some of those guys in the league right now, it was a long shot to make it and you never know what can happen.”

He just might discover that long shots are also his specialty.

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Pat the Punter is Piquing NFL Interest