the study of the kicking components within sports

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Louie Aguiar: Busy Punting

Since adding punting to his resume during high school, Louie Aguiar has been busy punting ever since. His college career started at Chabot Jr. College and ended at Utah State. He punted abroad, for NFL Europe's Barcelona Dragons. His decade long NFL career featured three years with the NY Jets, five with Kansas City, and then one apiece with Green Bay and Chicago. These days he is even busier, teaching and coaching high school, as well as instructing the next generation of punters and kickers through his Aguiar Kicking Academy.

We recently spoke to Louie, who answered all our punting questions (along with a few other questions):

What is your earliest recollection of kicking a ball (any ball, not necessarily a football)?
“Probably when I started walking. I was the youngest of four boys, and all my older brothers played soccer. So I’ve been kicking a ball my whole life. There were soccer balls all around the house.”

What was the hardest part about learning to punt a football after having started with soccer?
“It kind of came naturally. I was playing soccer from as long as I can remember through high school. I picked up football and started punting as a junior in high school. I just picked it up one day and started punting, turned it over, and the coach said ‘you’re our punter. I know you played soccer when your younger, and you’re a goalie, so why don’t you start punting the football?’ So I did. That’s how I got started.”

At what point did you realize that punting would become your career?
“When I was a senior in high school, I punted really well. Then I was getting recruited by some junior colleges in California to punt, so I said, ‘maybe this can be my meal ticket’. I just wanted to get into college and get my education paid for. Having three older brothers in college at the same time, I wanted to help my mom and dad out. That’s how I got into punting. I really enjoyed it. Punting and kicking.”

Do you have a favorite story from your days with the Barcelona Dragons?
“I was down there working out at the NFL Europe allocation tryouts, and the head of NFLE came up to me and said, ‘what do you think about going to Barcelona? They have the first pick in the draft for punters.’ I said ‘They have a lot of great punters down here, I just want to play somewhere, I don’t care where.’ He replied, ‘You know, I think you’ll be going to Barcelona.’ They had the draft the next week. I worked out, punted, and kicked off. The next thing I know I was the first punter drafted.”

How did the introduction of the K-ball in the NFL in ’99 impact the punting game?
“Oh, it was huge! In the punting and the kicking game. Going to a new ball compared to the old ball, and going to ball that’s not rubbed down – the long snappers had a hard time snapping the ball, and us punters had a hard time trying to handle the ball. We were used to a ball that was a little bit fatter, and now we had a ball that was skinnier and slick. It was a lot different. If you look back at those first couple years of the K-ball, the numbers were down because of that. Field goal averages were down. Punting averages were down a little bit. All because of the K-ball. We kept talking to Jerry Siemen [NFL head of officials], ‘we gotta do something about these balls.’ They said ‘no, no, no’, until Tony Romo dropped the ball. That’s when they said they decided to change it, all because of a quarterback. We and the kickers had been saying it for years.”

Are there any adjustments you make when punting in bad weather such as rain, wind, cold?
“If it’s raining and if we’re playing in grass, the first thing I’d do is go to longer cleats on my plant foot and go from a molded to a screw-on on my kicking foot. I always wore soccer shoes, which are bendable. Also in the rain, for my hands I’d always try and have hand warmer on, so I could keep my hands as dry as possible, as long as possible, until the ball was snapped. If there’s wind in your face you have to hang onto the ball longer.”

Like many punters, you also handled kickoffs. Are there reasons that punters might fare better on kickoffs than a placekicker?
"Most of the kickers that I played with were all six foot or shorter. I played with Pat Leahy who was right around six foot. I played with Stoyanovich. All those guys were a little shorter. The taller guys who have longer legs, we have more leverage on the leg swing. Since you have more of a whip, our leg can snap through the ball better and hit the ball farther – just like golfers on long drive contests, they always use those extra long shafts so they can get more whip. That’s a reason why we had an advantage, being taller, back when I was playing. Now they have placekickers that are my height, 6’-3”, and they can bomb the ball.”

They say placekicking is 80 to 90% mental. Does that also apply to punting?
“It definitely does. If you don’t have the mental side of it, it doesn’t matter how great of a punter you are. If you don’t have the mental side of it, you’re done! I was in training camp with many young kids in my career – college kids with cannons for legs – but when they got behind the line of scrimmage, they couldn’t handle the pressure. We’d be out there kicking side by side in practice and I’m thinking ‘these guys are hammering the ball’, but as soon as they got behind the line of scrimmage it was a different story. Even for me when I came out of college, I wasn’t ready. I went to the Buffalo Bills training camp in 1991. Coming from college it was a different game. All the guys are faster. They come at you faster. In college they just let you kick the ball away. In most cases in the pros they want you to kick outside the numbers. I wasn’t ready coming out of college either. Kids coming out of college, they’re not prepared for the NFL.”

Is there anything you’ve learned since becoming an instructor and coach that you wish you had known back during your playing days?
“Computer technology! If I could have had that while playing compared to today… Back then we just had video tape and looked at it later. During practice, I knew I was doing something wrong, and the coaches couldn’t see it. Now I use a program where I can video tape and it’s instant feedback. I can look at right then and there when I’m coaching these kids. I can videotape it and two seconds later show I can show the kids exactly what they’re doing. I wish I would have had that on the practice field when I was playing. There were some days on the practice field where I was not coming through the ball, where is the ball, what’s going on? Just little things, my wrist was turning the ball a little too much. My body is transferring right, why isn’t the ball going over there? With the technology today, video cameras and computer software are so much better.

Pertaining to my punting, I’ve learned that you’ve got to be a lot more consistent. Early in my career, I felt like I had a pretty big leg, but at the end of my career when I got done it’s a lot more technique than anything. You’ve got to trust yourself.”

Name one thing about being a punter that most people probably don’t realize.
“How much time and effort we put into it. They think being punters, ’all you do is kick a ball. You only play four or five plays a game on average’. They don’t realize how much time we put in on the practice field. Yea, when I’m on the practice field everybody else is banging heads, running around, and doing all that. But I was always over there, working on my footwork, working on my ball put away, working on coming through the ball. I teach high school now, and a lot of teachers go ‘oh, all you do is just kick the ball four or five times a game, that must have been easy’. No! If we have a two and a half hour practice, I’m probably over there for an hour to an hour and a half working on techniques to make myself better. That’s one thing that people don’t realize – how much time and effort it takes, so that when I get on that field I don’t make a mistake. I could have three great punts in a game, but that one shank is the one that everybody talks about. They don’t talk about the three I had for fifty yards, or the one for forty-five that I put out of bounds at the two; they just talk about the twenty-five yard shank, because the wind caught it or something.”

This interview sponsored by the National Camp Series.

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