Kyle DeWeen used to make the 30-minute trip to University at Buffalo football games a few times every season when he was a student at Niagara Falls High School.
On his way to becoming the starting punter for the Bulls, he took a bit of a detour.
DeWeen’s journey started around seventh grade, when he started watching former Bills punter Brian Moorman boom kicks at Ralph Wilson Stadium.
“I thought it was the coolest thing in the world,” DeWeen said.
DeWeen and his buddies actually invented a street game they played where you’d have to kick the ball over the street lamp.
“I ended up being really good at it, my hang time was really good,” DeWeen said. “I was hitting the ball really well, so that actually made me try out for modified football in seventh grade.”
Unfortunately for DeWeen, in modified football there isn’t really a kicker or punter. Coaches wouldn’t let him try out for the position until they let him hit a couple during the last practice of eighth grade.
Coaches were impressed, so they gave him a shot on the JV team the following school year.
“I was actually the backup until around the second game of the season,” DeWeen said, “and one of my coaches there kind of said I was really good at it so they gave me a shot and it went from there.”
DeWeen went on to start at kicker and punter the next three years on the varsity team, earning Class AA North first-team punter honors his senior season. He also kicked the winning field goal to send the Wolverines to sectionals.
Despite the success on the field and his good grades off of it, DeWeen wasn’t heavily recruited coming out of high school.
“It’s tough as it is playing in Western New York,” DeWeen said. “It’s not like a big football state, it’s more of a basketball state. So I didn’t have any offers and anything like that.”
He strongly considered Division III SUNY schools like Brockport, Buffalo State or Cortland, but he didn’t want to give up the dream of playing Division I football. So he ultimately decided on attending and playing at Erie Community College.
“I didn’t want to shut it down right away,” DeWeen said. “My plan was to go there, see if anybody’s interested after that. If not, I gave it my best and I was going to stay home and go to Buff State. I wanted to at least chase that dream so I didn’t have any regrets.”
DeWeen didn’t punt for the Kats, which he always considered his stronger skill. He was the place kicker and went seven for 10 with six of those makes from 40 yards out or longer. His longest kick came from 52 yards out.
DeWeen returned to ECC for a third semester but redshirted during the football season and transferred to D-I Florida International University in Miami for spring ball as a punter.
“They told me if I perform well they’ll give me a scholarship,” DeWeen said. “I did pretty well and they didn’t follow through with that, so I ended up back home and I was eligible because I needed two classes to graduate.”
He went back to ECC to get those credits so he would be eligible immediately the next season.
“If I would’ve stayed and got my associates at FIU then I would’ve had to sit out another year, so it was kind of a blessing in disguise,” DeWeen said.
While all of that was going on, he always kept an eye on UB’s program. He knew that Tyler Grassman, the punter at the time, had graduated and that there was going to be an open competition to fill the opening.
“I’d always wanted to play at UB. It was actually kind of a dream school of mine,” DeWeen said. “There was no guaranteed starter here, so I thought that I was good enough to – I had been chasing that dream for a while. I knew inside that I performed really well at FIU and I didn’t get the scholarship, so my kicking coach gave him a call and they said they’d give me an opportunity.”
That kicking coach, Adam Tanalski, was a UB alum himself. Tanalski now travels between Buffalo and Long Island running camps and clinics for his Hammer Kicking Academy.
“He’s been my guy for the last four years now,” DeWeen said.
Tanalski had DeWeen well-prepared heading into the 2016 camp at UB as a walk-on as he ended up winning the starting job.
“The FIU thing was disappointing,” DeWeen said. “I thought I performed well and it was hard to walk away from that, but I was training with my kicking coach for the six months I wasn’t playing at FIU, so it was two classes and training kicking and punting. Basically I had been locked in on that for quite a while, so that kind of just gave me the confidence that I could do this.
“I just needed an opportunity, and thankfully coach (Lance) Leipold and coach (Taiwo) Onatolu, they gave me a shot.”
DeWeen didn’t disappoint in his first season with the Bulls. He punted 72 times for 2,865 total yards, good for fifth all time in school history, and an average of 39.8 yards per punt, which stands 10th all time for a single season. Nine punts traveled more than 50 yards and 22 landed inside the opponent’s 20-yard line.
“I think all specialists are pretty much the same,” DeWeen said. “We set high expectations for ourselves. I had very high expectations for myself. My kicking coach worked tirelessly with me until I got it done.
“Basically it was my last go-round. I knew this was it. I either had to do good or it could be it.”
DeWeen is more comfortable in his second season as the starting punter for UB. He would get anxious last year out on the field waiting for his turn to kick. He wasn’t nervous, but it took some time to get caught up to the new speed of the game.
“Last year I would do a million kicks on the sideline into the net,” DeWeen said. “It has its benefit keeping the leg loose, but you don’t really get to see what the ball is doing. It’s kind of tough, but I kind of worked on settling down and not kicking too much. I felt like last year I was hitting way too much and tiring the leg out toward the fourth quarter.”
He also feels his legs are much stronger than they were coming in as a junior.
“My hang time has improved a lot, which was a big thing I wanted to focus on,” DeWeen said. “Even my mishits, we want to have a good 4.0-second hang time at least.
“All those things combined have been really helping me out a lot.”
It showed in Week One against Minnesota. DeWeen punted eight times for 349 yards, an average of 43.6 per punt. His longest punt went for 48 yards and five were fair caught.
New for DeWeen this season is his role as the holder on field goals and extra points. It’s a big part of the kicking game that often gets overlooked. An inch here or there can really change the trajectory of the ball.
“I was decent at it last year, but it’s something that I needed a little work on since they were real confident with the other guy last year who graduated,” DeWeen said. “They kind of needed someone to step up and do it, and me being the punter, it’s good for me to do it so you don’t have to have other receivers and other guys working on holding.”
The individual growth and success have been there for DeWeen in the past year. Now he’d like to see the team pile up some wins.
“I’d rather punt zero times because that means our team’s winning,” DeWeen said, “and that’s all that matters at the end of the day.”
That and being able to suit up in front of friends and family wearing the jersey of his dream school.
“I had a long journey to get here,” DeWeen said. “It was a blessing in disguise that I got the opportunity to come play at home and my family gets to come watch. My parents, they supported me with everything I did as far as transferring and stuff like that, so I’m kind of doing this for them and everyone who supported me.”
Story topics: Adam Tanalski/ Brian Moorman/ ECC/ Erie Community College/ football/ Kyle DeWeen/ Lance Leipold/ niagara falls/ Niagara Falls High School/ Taiwo Onatolu/ Tyler Grassman/ UB/ UB football/ University at Buffalo