Nov. 7, 2002
by Kevin Herrity
This year, the Notre Dame football team has had many bright spots. Many of those being new faces who have stepped up to make big plays in crucial situations. One player who makes a big play almost every time he steps foot on the field is senior punter Joey Hildbold. Hildbold is a two-time Ray Guy Award semifinalist (2000 and 2002) and has been very convincing to anyone who has watched him this season that he is worthy of those accolades.
The 5-10, 190-pound senior from Centreville, Va., is currently averaging 40.3 yards a punt. His career average ranks fifth overall in Notre Dame history at 40.70 and being the unselfish person he is, he gives most of the credit to his teammates.
“I would have to say great protection and having a great long snapper give me the time to sit back there and not have to worry about anything,” Hildbold says.
“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 in 2002, the senior has placed 25 of his kicks inside the 20 (a 45 percent clip), which includes nine inside the 10-yard line. The 25 kicks inside the 20 and the nine inside the 10 are both career-highs. But having to give up his distance numbers for the good of the team has not bothered him one bit.
“It has not bothered me at all,” Hildbold says.
“I don’t look at it as having to give up numbers. I look at it as helping the team win. It seems like it has been working so far, eight straight wins is not a bad start to season.”
All of Hildbold’s success has not come without a little tinkering with his punting style. A three-step punter most of his life, head coach Tyrone Willingham challenged Hildbold to become a two-step punter during the offseason. The move has paid dividends for the Irish and Hildbold as they have not had a punt blocked all season.
“I am trying to get the ball off a little quicker. You never want to hold on to the ball too long,” Hildbold says.
“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,” Hildbold says.
“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.”
Kickoff this Saturday against Navy is at Noon EST the game will be televised live on CBS.
Visit Joey Hildbold’s all-star website at http://und.ocsn.com/sports/m-footbl/all-stars.html