Baylor's unplanned punter is NCAA's best

October 26th, 2006  
Team Infidel

Topic: Baylor's unplanned punter is NCAA's best

WACO, Texas - Daniel Sepulveda still isn't sure why he started kicking with the Baylor punter one day as a freshman. Sepulveda hadn't punted since junior high and didn't even know the proper technique. He was just kicking the ball around for fun. Plus, he had walked on at Baylor to be a linebacker like his older brother.
"If I would have understood then that if I were to actually win the punting job (and) that would be the only thing I would do, I probably wouldn't have done it," Sepulveda said. "That's not me. I'm a football player."
With the body (6-foot-3, 230 pounds) and mentality of a linebacker, Sepulveda instead became one of the best college players ever at a different position.
The senior is the NCAA's best punter with a 46.2-yard average and didn't miss a game after tearing a knee ligament during a pickup basketball game in April.
Sepulveda is a finalist to be the first two-time winner of the Ray Guy Award that goes to the best college punter, has the best career average (45.1) in the NCAA for anyone with at least 250 punts and is a top-rated NFL prospect. His 85 career punts of at least 50 yards are four short of another NCAA record.
"He's an amazing asset for us. He does so many things for us offensively when we struggle. He can flip the field," quarterback Shawn Bell said. "He does so much more than people give him credit. He keeps bailing us out of jams."
When Sepulveda had surgery to repair a torn ACL in his right knee April 27, the recovery time was supposed to be five to six months - which means he should just now be getting ready to punt in a game. While he doesn't punt with his right leg, he does have to land on it.
"I doubted he could be ready by TCU," coach Guy Morriss said. "He proved me wrong."
Sepulveda had a 56-yard punt in that season opener, and has punts of at least that long in six games for the Bears (4-4, 3-1), who play No. 22 Texas A&M on Saturday night in a game matching teams tied for second place in the Big 12 South. A 78-yard kick against Kansas State matched his career best.
"He's a kid that all the kids look up to with respect," Morriss said. "They watched him go through that rehab process every day. ... A lot of kids took notice of how hard he pushed himself. I believe Daniel could be as good a linebacker as he is a punter."
Even though Sepulveda was kicking on the side that redshirt year, he was still a linebacker the spring of 2003 after Morriss became Baylor's coach. That's when Sepulveda volunteered to punt, then began working with Dallas-area kicking guru Rocky Willingham.
But Sepulveda thought he still would play linebacker and have the chance as a freshman to play alongside his brother, Stephen, who was going into his senior season.
"At the first of two-a-days, they pulled me out of linebacker drills, claiming that they didn't want me to get hurt," Daniel Sepulveda said. "It was the first time that I kind of realized, 'I guess I'm not a linebacker anymore.'"
Sepulveda always had a strong leg, but had never really been taught how to punt until he started working with Willingham.
"Like so many punters that are pretty much self-taught, he'd be very inconsistent," Willingham said. "I got him going with drills. They are not like most drills and are not comfortable. But he stayed with it, was very disciplined."
As a freshman, Sepulveda averaged 43.1 yards on 87 punts but was still "kind of on the fence whether or not" he wanted to continue punting. Even though he averaged more than six kicks a game, it was hard for him having only limited opportunities on the field.
But he kept kicking and won the Ray Guy award as a sophomore when he averaged 45.97 yards. His average increased again last season, and Sepulveda looked forward to another year of seasoning before a likely NFL career.
Then he hurt his knee playing basketball over Easter weekend.
"A lot of thoughts were rushing through my head: It's my last year, I want to play in the NFL, who knows if this is going to hurt me," Sepulveda said. "I just wanted to make it go away."
While Sepulveda didn't want to miss a college game, he also knew rushing back might prevent his knee from healing properly and possibly threaten his NFL future.
After plenty of prayerful consideration and consultation with his parents, Sepulveda decided to have the surgery and push himself to be ready for Baylor's season. Then he went through a rehabilitation program during that summer that mostly involved riding an exercise bicycle daily, "just riding that sucker as hard as I could," he said.
Now, he has no regrets. Not about remaining a punter, or pushing himself to play every game as a Baylor senior.
"I wouldn't have it any other way," Sepulveda said. "Which is a testament to the fact that God had his hand on me and he has a plan for me, and he's guiding me along this path.
"This is certainly not what I would have chosen, simply because I had no desire to do this. It just kind of happened."

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