Aug. 29, 2012
By JACK BOGACZYK
HUNTINGTON – A very big game opens the state’s college football season Saturday, but for Tyler Williams, it would be a big game no matter the opponent.
The Marshall true freshman punter will play his first collegiate game against No. 11 West Virginia at soldout Mountaineer Field, in what will be the last game between the Mountain State rivals until who knows when.
He doesn’t diminish the rivalry at all, but Williams – who won the punting job in preseason camp over redshirt freshman Austin Dumas – said he can’t afford to get caught up in the back-and-forth jawboning over the game or the end of the series.
He doesn’t fear first-game jitters, even after hearing about what is sure to be a partisan, raucous Friends of Coal Bowl atmosphere provided by the more than 60,000 fans expected.
“I’ve spent a lot of time talking to (various teammates) about the hype of the game, the importance of this game, the seriousness of this game,” said Williams, a Fort Wayne, Ind., native. “We have to get prepared and be ready to win, go in knowing we can win and having the ability to do so, having that in the back of your head, envisioning it even.
“But it’s all about being consistent every time you hit the field. Every play counts, every snap counts – but that’s the way it should be every game. People have told me how important my position is and how important it is that I prepare for this game. I really don’t think there’s a certain way to prepare. I think everyone is different; it’s one of those things you do your own thing.
“I’m going into a situation I’ve never done before, so you have to find a way (to prepare) for the game, watch film, whatever, but more just to get ready for the situation. You should really prepare like you do every game, whether it’s West Virginia, UCF, Tulsa, Houston.
“It doesn’t matter the opponent. Getting prepared for the game, any game, is all the same.”
Williams is a Thundering Herd walk-on who spent last year in prep school at Atlanta Sports Academy. There, his punting average was in the 47- or 48-yard range. He averaged 40 yards per kick in 2010 as a senior at R. Nelson Snider High in Fort Wayne, and he was the Hoosier State’s Class 5A All-State first team punter.
His emergence is something of a relief for Coach Doc Holliday and his staff, because the punting game was one of Marshall’s major preseason question marks after the graduation of Kase Whitehead. Williams struggled early in camp this month, then began booming kicks in practice with consistent distance, hangtime and get-away.
Whether all that translates on Saturday, we’ll see. Williams said the largest crowd he’s ever punted in front of was “3,000-5,000 during my junior year” in a game at Fort Wayne Bishop Dwenger High.
In addition, he’s working with a true freshman snapper in Matt Cincotta of Charlotte, N.C. They figure to be the Herd’s only two true freshman starters at WVU.
“I just think we’re both just excited to be here at Marshall,” Williams said, “having an opportunity, glad to be starting a new career … I felt like I had the ability to win the job, and felt like I could win it. I felt like I really needed to get focused early in camp, and I did.”
The 6-foot, 195-pound business marketing major had offers from Buffalo, Southern U. and a few NCAA Division II schools, he said. Auburn was in contact, too. He chose Marshall, Williams said, “because I looked for a good program with a lot to offer and a place where I not only had the opportunity to play Division I football, but a place that also could help me play at the next level, the NFL.
Williams has a chance to be the fifth four-year Herd punter, following Bob Eshbaugh of the Young Thundering Herd (1971-74), Chris Hanson (’95-98), Curtis Herd (1999-2002) and Whitehead (’08-11). First things first, however, he said.
“This week, I just don’t want to think about the game, about 60,000 people, about it could be the last time we ever play West Virginia, about how if I screw up we’re going to lose the game,” Williams said.
“Punting the ball is punting the ball, no matter the game, and whether it’s Division I, II, III, whatever. I feel prepared now and I feel like I’ll feel prepared then. And when I take the field, I’ll be ready to go, to punt the ball, to hopefully help my team.”