By Tyler Dunne
News Sports Reporter
When the punter isn’t being discussed, that punter is probably having himself a solid season. That’s been the case for the Buffalo Bills’ Colton Schmidt. In his second season, Schmidt’s net average of 42.5 yards per punt ranks fifth in the NFL. But as detailed in this week’s Getting to Know, there’s much more that goes into a punt than an average.
The third-year pro out of UC-Davis discusses the need to stay measured, his switch from soccer to football and the art of his profession. After getting cut by San Francisco (twice) and Cleveland, he has found a home in Buffalo.
What is the mindset of a punter? What has allowed you to stick around? Yeah, I try not to get all hyped up because the calmer I am, the more consistent my performance is. To take it a step further, a lower heart rate helps me play better. Running around getting all crazy doesn’t help me play better.
So everyone else is getting all hyped up. And I’m just sitting there, chilling.
How do you get to that point? It’s more part of my demeanor now, and I stay like that all the time. A cool and consistent type of mentality.
Where does this come from then? Genetics? I don’t really know. Because when I played other sports, I’d get hyped up. I played soccer and all that. I’m not sure when it started coming around.
Where did you play soccer? Just in California, the Central Valley area. On my travel team, I played goalie and sweeper mostly. I played center mid. I feel like if I put the energy into soccer like I did with football, then I could’ve at least gone to college for that. But looking down the road, it was easier to get a football scholarship than a soccer scholarship from pure quantity and how many football teams there are out there.
When did you make that decision? My sophomore and junior year in high school when I knew I had a shot at football. Getting your degree is the next step after high school, and I got mine partially paid for. Otherwise, I’d have to take the junior college route and transfer over after two years.
So you could’ve played college soccer? I think I could have. That was 40 pounds ago. I looked like a soccer player back then, too. Back then, I was only like 180 pounds. A good size for soccer.
Did you play any other sports? Mostly soccer because that was a year ’round thing. I was on a club team. Usually, I was on two teams all year. I was gone every weekend for tournaments and traveling. I got a little burned out and switched over to football. So then I only played on one football team. And in high school, soccer is a winter sport out in California. So I was able to play football in the fall, soccer in the winter and then I played tennis once just for fun.
In soccer, you’re more of an aggressor and getting your heart rate up. Did you like punting at first? The biggest thing was, soccer, especially when you’re a starter, you play the whole 90 minutes. Constant running, constantly doing something. Whereas kicking, you’re chilling on the sideline and it’s “Oh, I’ve got to go kick one ball,” and then you’re back on the sideline. And you do that five times a game.
How do you stay into it during the course of a game? You’re rooting for your teammates and all that stuff, but I’m not getting all psyched. When the offense is up, I’m hitting balls into the net and trying to get myself into a routine.
What do you like to do off the field, away from football? I’ve always been big into working out. It’s part of my job description now, which is pretty convenient for a hobby. Between that, practice, working out, I get pretty tired so I just watch a lot of movies. Netflix. Video games. I got rid of all of my old hobbies after college.
So you become a creature of habit with this? Especially during the season when you have the one off day. You’ve got something six days of the week.
What do you do on that off day? I used to come in here, work out and do extra stuff. Now, I feel like I really need to get away from it. Take a step back and do something else because the season’s so long. ... One thing Jordan (Gay) and I have picked up is bowling. We have our own balls and get competitive with each other.
Who’s the better bowler? I think I was to start, but he crept up on me. It’s pretty hit or miss at this point. It’s real tight. We’re in the low 200s. Pretty consistent.
Has lower-body strength been a big focus for you? That doesn’t so much help you. I just kind of like it. Obviously it helps versus not doing it. But the big thing is leg speed, not leg power. So that’s why kickers are usually smaller, skinnier guys – a fast whip for a leg. Similar to a golf swing with club-head speed. There’s so much technique involved, just like that. You’re trying to swing fast but you have to hit it pure still. Otherwise, you’re going to slice it, shank it. You can be as strong as you want but if you’re not hitting it clean ... that’s why I try to stay calm. I don’t want to kick it as hard as I can. Some guys want to crush it and just hit the biggest punt they can. I don’t want to hit any bad punts. So once I got to the point of hitting balls that are good enough, now it’s hitting as many of them as I can. Keep pushing that ceiling and try to raise the floor. That’s kind of my mentality to stay consistent with it.
Other punters, you make one mistake and that can eat away at you and you’re out of the NFL. What are ways you stay calm? Yeah, that’s definitely there. You always remember the bad ones over the good ones for sure. I’m pretty sure every one of us is that way and could tell you every bad kick they’ve had. But you can’t let that bother you. You have to stay focused. At the end of the day, you’re still an athlete, still a competitor so you should have that mindset of ... “I’m better than that” and fight through it. You come back and step up next time. If you had the other mindset, you probably wouldn’t even make it here.
Was there a time you had to bounce back, and it’s the reason you’re here? Yeah, I wasn’t always ranked the highest. But I was high enough to be in the mix and always battling through it to get a scholarship and then getting opportunities to play in the NFL. More so like that. I don’t want to say “Not getting the credit you deserve,” but sometimes it can feel like that. You should feel like you’re better than a lot of people, not from ego, but just because you need that confidence to be at that level.
And you’re ranked near the top of the league this year, too. Yeah, but I just try to hit the best ball I can for the situation and help the team out, help the defense coming back. For punting, it’s so situational.
A lot of people have said that this year about “Oh, your numbers are so much better.” But last year, we punted a lot of balls from midfield – inside the 20 punts. And I think I finished fourth in that last year. So if you’re pinning the ball at the 1-yard line, it could be a 30-yard punt, a 39-yard punt, a 40-yard punt. So those are going to be really low in your numbers for the situation. Or you hit a ball and they fair-catch it at the 10-yard line and you punted from the 45, it’s a 35-yard punt but it’s on the 10-yard line so it’s a good punt. It’s circumstantial. Because this year, it’s been the opposite. We haven’t had a lot of those short-range punts so the numbers are going to be a little more inflated even though the inside-the-20s are down. And then there’s all kinds of underlying factors as far as net punting. If it’s fourth and long, they’re going to affect our gunners more than if it’s fourth and short. They’re returning it, or they’re rushing the punter. There’s so many things that go into it.