Nov. 6, 2002
by Kevin Herrity
NOTRE DAME, Ind. – This year the Notre Dame football team has had many bright spots, and new faces that have stepped up to make big plays in crucial situations. One player who makes a big play almost every time he sets foot on the field is senior punter Joey Hildbold, a two-time Ray Guy Award semifinalist (2000, 2002) who has been very convincing to anyone who has watched him that he is worthy of that title.
The 5-10, 190-pound senior hails from Centreville, Va., and is a graduate of Robinson High School. He currently is averaging 40.3 yards a punt. His career average ranks fifth overall in Notre Dame history at 40.70 and being the unselfish person that he is he gave most of the credit to his teammates.
“I would have to say great protection, especially having a great long snapper, gives me the time to sit back there and not have to worry about anything,” Hildbold said. “I can concentrate on kicking the ball and only kicking the ball.”
Hildbold’s numbers have gone down slightly this year, but for good reason. So far this year, he has placed more than 45 percent (25) of his kicks inside the opponent’s 20-yard line, which includes nine punts inside the 10-yard line. Having to give up yardage for the team has not bothered him one bit.
“I don’t look at it as having to give up numbers,” Hildbold said. “I look at it as helping the team to win. It seems like it has been working so far, eight straight wins is not a bad start to season at all.”
When he was asked whether or not the pinpoint accuracy he has shown to kick the ball out of bounds inside the 20 should be taken into consideration for the Ray Guy Award, he seemed pretty confident that whatever decision was made would be the correct one.
“I believe that the panel of judges would all be pretty smart people who know what exactly goes into being a good punter,” Hildbold noted. “I don’t think they are going to solely look at numbers, but I am sure they will make the best decision.”
All of Hildbold’s success has not come without a little tinkering with his punting style.
“I am trying to get the ball of a little quicker,” he said. “You never want to hold on to the ball too long. I was a three-step punter before, but in order to get the ball off quicker I changed my style to a two-step approach. I worked really hard at it this summer and have gotten used to the new two-step drop.”
Being that it is Hildbold’s senior season, winning the Ray Guy Award would be a special honor for him, but team awards are much more important.
“I think that it would be pretty nice to win it, but right now I am hoping that we get a chance to play in the Fiesta Bowl, or another BCS bowl if that does not work out,” he said. “Right now, I just want our team to win, and just try and do my part in trying to put the team in good position to win. I would love to win the award, but my main focus is on helping the team to win.”
No. 9 Notre Dame (8-1) returns to action Saturday at noon (EST) against Navy at Ravens Stadium in Baltimore. The game will be televised live nationwide on CBS.
— ND —