Sam Koch’s latest trip home turned into a full-circle type of visit.
The former Nebraska punter, now entering his 16th season with the Baltimore Ravens, recently returned to Seward for a visit with his family and, while he was in town, swung by Memorial Stadium to see a former coach.
He also got a little bit of work in with the Huskers’ young group of punters.
When Koch was punting for the Huskers in 2004 and 2005, Bill Busch was coaching special teams. They didn’t always keep in touch after Koch graduated to the NFL and put together his sterling run with the Ravens, but recently reconnected.
“He reached out to me and said, 'Hey, I’m back here at Nebraska, doing some special teams. I coached (former LSU and now Baltimore linebacker Patrick Queen) and stuff like that, tell him I said hi,' and we just created a dialogue,” Koch said of Busch, who is now a defensive analyst for NU, though he’s also involved in the Huskers’ special teams work alongside special teams coordinator/outside linebackers coach Mike Dawson. “He was asking about my punting and kicking routines and the things that I do, one thing led to another and I said, ‘I’m actually going to be coming back,’ and we decided to meet up.
“He put together a plan with their guys and where we could all meet up.”
So, Koch came to Lincoln to catch up and also to work out with Nebraska’s punters, a group that includes freshman Daniel Cerni, an Australian and the lone scholarship punter on the roster, sophomore William Przystup and redshirt freshman Grant Detlefsen.
“I just tried to teach them some of the things that go on on a day-to-day for myself and how I approach the game, how I approach life, the consistency aspect,” Koch said. “Being able to impart that on those guys is something that I really enjoy doing. Then to see them, while we’re out there, find that rhythm or find that success in things that I’ve been showing them is always something that I really enjoy and I enjoyed being around those guys and teaching them.”
Cerni missed all of 2020, his first fall in the United States, because of a leg injury suffered in preseason camp. He’s got a big leg and comes from a program in ProKick Australia that has churned out several high-level college and NFL punters, but coaches this spring said he was still working on becoming more consistent.
“The advancement of the rugby punt and the Australian way they go about punting and the accuracy they have with the rugby punt and the way I’ve been able to use it in the NFL is something that they learn at such an early age," Koch said. "Not only that, but implementation of the spread punt formation and the rollout, from an Australian’s perspective, because they do that all the time and pass it to other guys (in Australian-rules football), it allows them to make solid contact and be able to control those punts.
“If you can do that at the college level and get the ball down on the ground and get it to roll, you can have a huge net day in the punting game, just by getting it on the ground and getting the gunners and punt team running down there.”
Nebraska is looking for any way to find improvement in punting, in particular, and across the board in special teams. The Huskers shuffled their coaching responsibilities again this offseason as coach Scott Frost looks for answers in what has been a consistent trouble spot the past three years.
In 2020, for example, Nebraska finished No. 13 in the Big Ten and No. 107 nationally in net field position, according to Football Outsiders data. NU’s starting field position was, on average, 4.7 yards worse than its opponent.
“The last time I saw in (NFL) analytics, a punt to the 13 compared with a punt to the 18 might be the difference from a 13% chance of scoring for the opposing team to a 28% chance of scoring,” Koch said.
“The difference in 5 yards is huge in the course of the game.”
He had a pretty simple explanation for why the Huskers were strong on special teams when he was in school and why the Ravens consistently rank among the NFL’s best outfits.
“A lot of it had to do with Bill Busch, Jeff Jamrog, Scott Downing, those types of guys creating the atmosphere,” Koch said. “Then we had coaches out there scouting and bringing in guys like Brandon Rigoni, who just had the mentality of a special teamer. With that, the focus that we put on it at that time was like, we had a lot of guys on the team and we focused on being the best special teams we could be. It’s much like the way we are here (in Baltimore) in the NFL. We put so much of an emphasis on it that there’s a reason why we’ve been at the top of the league for the last 10 or 11 years, every year.
“It’s because of the emphasis that we put on it.”
Koch has shown no signs of slowing down in his playing career, but he’s also found a way to get involved coaching, too. Not only did he help out NU’s specialists, but he helped coach his son Braxtyn’s high school team this spring in Maryland. Braxtyn plays multiple positions including, you guessed it, punter. During the trip back to Nebraska, he got to show his son, who hopes to play at the college level, around Lincoln. They took a tour of the business school and saw the football facility, too.
“Being in Memorial Stadium doing some punting just brings back a lot of memories from those days when we were there and what it was like,” Koch said. “Just enjoyed so much of it that I always tell the wife, ‘Man, how cool would it be to be able to go back there?’ But we’ve also got our life out here in Maryland. But being back there and being in that red, love the Husker red and everything about it and I enjoy every second I can of it.”
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