LINCOLN — Nebraska assistant coach Ross Els took Sam Foltz into his office after spring practice and explained the way it was going to be.
Foltz had all but won the punting job, and now it was time to give up playing receiver and put all his efforts into kicking the football.
A good news/bad news kind of thing for the redshirt freshman, who had enjoyed his time the previous fall as a scout-team receiver.
“Coach Els said, 'You're the guy, and we don't want to risk you getting hurt,' ” Foltz said. “It was tough at first, but I've embraced it and I really like what I do.”
Foltz admits he still stands by the receivers some in practice and watches old cohorts like Brandon Reilly and Lane Hovey. But Foltz also knows several backup receivers would surely trade places with him, too.
The 6-foot-1, 200-pounder from Grand Island, Neb., not only won the punting job but has run with it over the first half of the season.
Foltz is averaging 42.6 yards per punt after 25 kicks, putting eight inside the opponents' 20 with just one touchback. Nebraska also ranks third in the Big Ten and No. 16 nationally in net punting at 39.9 yards per attempt.
After Brett Maher and Alex Henery handled the punting as upperclassmen the previous four years, Foltz likely eased some concerns right away with strong showings against Wyoming and Southern Mississippi to start the season.
“I still feel like I'm feeling it out, but I do think I'm getting a better grasp of it,” he said. “I'm still a little inconsistent right now. I'm working on that. I'll get that fixed.”
If Foltz can maintain his current pace, he would stay just behind the best averages posted by Maher (44.5 yards in 2011) and Henery (43.2 in 2010). Those are the top marks by Huskers since current Baltimore Ravens punter Sam Koch averaged 46.5 in 2005.
Nebraska recognized the leg strength and potential right away with Foltz, who would leave the scout-team offense last fall and boot a few balls when the Husker returners needed work on catching some punts.
He was just raw.
“They knew I had an explosive leg, but it wasn't too pretty,” Foltz said.
Foltz started punting back and forth across the front yard of the family farm in Greeley after his dad bought him his first football when he was 5 or 6. He worked his way up to being the Grand Island punter.
Foltz was just better known as a standout defensive back for the Islanders and one of quarterback Ryker Fyfe's favorite receiving targets on offense. Foltz caught 39 passes for 686 yards and 10 touchdowns as a senior in 2011.
Now Foltz just concentrates on catching the football so he can kick it. And studies things like which way and how fast the wind is blowing.
He talks punting with NU kickers Mauro Bondi and Pat Smith, as well as graduate assistant Jake Wesch. He trades texts and calls with Maher, and the two spent a half talking football recently at a Kearney-Grand Island game.
“He said he was proud of me and said I was doing a good job, and to just keep doing what I'm doing,” Foltz said.
You can tell that means a lot to Foltz, who never underestimated the task of replacing Maher after Maher was the first-team All-Big Ten punter in 2011 and second-team a year ago.
It helped when his first career punt traveled 56 yards against Wyoming and when he was averaging 45.8 after two games.
“I just tried to go out there and shut everything out and just do what I do, and I knew if I did that I'd be just fine,” Foltz said. “Obviously after that Wyoming game my confidence was pretty sky high, so now it's just trying to do it every single week.”
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