Urban Meyer Talks Punting Situation
By Brandon Castel
COLUMBUS, Ohio — Urban Meyer smiled as soon as he heard the question.
Very rarely does the punter become a major topic of conversation for the head coach of a football program coming off a 12-0 season. Except Ohio State doesn't’ have one at the moment, at least not a scholarship guy who came to Columbus to fill that role when Ben Buchanan graduated.
“We probably won't,” Meyer jested when asked about the punting situation at Ohio State heading into spring practice.
“We will punt, by the way,” clarified after his initial comment drew a large applause from the crowd aboard the Buckeye Cruise for Cancer on Sunday.
Photo by Jim Davidson
“Our punting situation is Drew Basil is going to be a our starting punter. Frank Epitropoulos is also going to get a shot. Other than that, we’re struggling.”
Epitropoulos is a redshirt freshman who came to the Buckeyes as a wide receiver last season, while Basil is the team’s starting place kicker. Meyer and his coaching staff had hoped to the fill the role with someone outside of the current roster, but Johnny Townsend, a highly touted punter out of Orlando, Fla. flipped his commitment from OSU to the University if Florida just before National Signing Day.
“I can talk about it because a recruiting is over,” Meyer said Sunday.
“We have a scholarship issue and we were going to try to get a guy to walk on. Some other school comes in and offers a full scholarship and we lose him. It wasn’t like at the end we lost a guy, we knew that might be a problem.”
Townsend was a U.S. Army All-American in the 2013 class who committed to Ohio State back in the summer. He developed a great relationship with a number of other kids in the Buckeyes’ class, but he also had a brother already in Gainesville.
Both of his parents went to Florida. In the end, that ended up making the difference when Gators’ coach Will Muschamp called him with a scholarship offer two days before he was supposed to sign his National Letter of Intent with Ohio State.
The Buckeyes scrambled to find a replacement, and Meyer quickly made a call to Andrew Gantz. Considered the top kicker/punter in the state of Ohio, and one of the top 10-12 kickers in the country, Gantz was headed to Knoxville as a preferred walk-on.
The Centerville product had an offer to walk on at Tennessee, where he would have a chance to compete for the kicking job as a freshman. He would also have an opportunity to earn a scholarship.
Ohio State made a similar offer, except they wanted Gantz to come in and compete for the punting job. He would have a chance to earn a scholarship and eventually the possibility of serving as the kicker when Basil leaves after this season.
Figuring It Out
His decision to stick with the Volunteers leaves the Buckeyes a little shorthanded heading into spring practice, which officially begins next week in Columbus.
“I'm not worried about it,” OSU offensive coordinator Tom Herman said in a recent interview.
“We'll figure it out.”
Basil appears to be the answer, at least for now. The senior out of Chillicothe is a former soccer player and team captain for football coach Bill Davidson. He was a second-team all-Ohio kicker in high school, and he had almost exclusively worked as a kicker before Meyer and his staff arrived.
“Drew Basil is a very capable punter,” Meyer was quick to add.
“We started working with him last year and he’s a warhorse.”
The 6-1, 210-pound Basil attempted only 11 field goals as a junior last season, down from 19 during his sophomore year at Ohio State. He did kick 57 extra points a year ago, compared to just 37 the previous year, which is a good thing for the Buckeyes.
With Meyer at the helm, they were one of the most effective teams in the country at scoring touchdowns in the red zone last season. Only Oregon found the end zone at a higher clip than the Buckeyes, but Basil also handled the kickoff duties for Ohio State.
He has had 226 kickoffs over the last three seasons, included 32 touchbacks over the last two years. That’s a lot of action, even for a warhorse, but like Meyer said, the Buckeyes don’t have many other options right now.
Looking at Other Options
Kyle Clinton, Russell Doup and Kevin Niehoff are all walk-ons, but none of them specifically came in as punters. Clinton was a three-year letterman at Dublin Coffman and transferred to Ohio State in 2011 after spending his first season at Ohio University.
Clinton actually served as the Bobcats’ primary kickoff guy as a freshman during the 2010 season, averaging over 63 yards on 67 kickoffs.
The other two walk-ons, Doup an Niehoff, are both left-footed kickers with very little experience at the college level. Doup is in his third year with the program, while Niehoff walked on last fall after three years as the starting kicker at Mason High School.
He also caught five touchdown passes as a wide receiver during his senior year, and he was a letterman in both baseball and basketball. His dad, Rob Niehoff, played collegiately for Cincinnati and later was a member of the Cincinnati Bengals.
Ready or Not
Photo by Jim Davidson
The kid who will get the first opportunity to compete with Basil for the punting job, however, will likely be Epitropoulos. Despite the fact he would prefer to stay at wide receiver, this is probably going to be his best shot to see the field at Ohio State any time in the near future.
“We didn’t use him much, he had a hamstring injury a year ago, but he’s a talented guy,” Meyer said Sunday.
Epitropoulos was a three-year starter at wideout and defensive back for Upper Arlington, but he was also a two-time second-team Ohio Division I all-state pick by the Associated Press as a punter.
The 6-1, 197-pounder averaged 42.2 yards per punt as a junior and 39.2 as a senior. He is the son of John Epitropoulos, a three-year Ohio State football letterman under Woody Hayes and Earle Bruce.
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