Punter puts his best foot forward
SHINER - Not many Class 1A teams have a player on the roster who does nothing but punt.
Hunter Mraz's teammates at Shiner don't hesitate to remind him.
"Yes they mess with me," Mraz said during Monday's practice. "I got a nickname, Hunter the Punter. It kind of fits, but they say I do well. It's good that I do well at the one thing I do."
Mraz, a junior, is also a backup center and linebacker for the Comanches, but no one at Shiner is complaining about his primary duty given his area-best 43.2-yard average.
"It's a luxury because your leg's fresh if you're not out there," said Shiner head coach Steven Cerny. "I think that has a lot to do with the pop he has."
Cerny doesn't have to be reminded of the importance of a good punter.
He was an assistant coach at Shiner in 1994 when East Bernard's Shane Lechler, who currently punts for the Oakland Raiders, had a 74-yard punt against the wind to change the field position in a game the Brahmas went on to win.
"It's all about field position," Cerny said. "All of sudden you boom a 70-yard punt like Lechler did that time and everybody is looking at you saying, 'Whoa man.' Just when you think you did your job defensively and pinned them deep."
Mraz is still learning the finer points of punting, which is not surprising considering he began punting last season on the junior varsity.
At the suggestion of Shiner assistant coach Ray Neal, Mraz brought a bag of balls to Comanche Stadium almost every day last summer and practiced punting.
Neal was previously an assistant at Sealy and worked with former Texas A&M punter Justin Brantley.
"We noticed Hunter had a good leg," Neal said. "His drops weren't where they should be and his direction wasn't where it should be," Neal said. "It was just a little, fine tweaking here and there. We kind of got him on track a little bit and he's helped us out a lot."
Unlike Lechler and Brantley who wear shoes, Mraz punts barefooted.
"It just felt better," Mraz said. "When I started in the summer, my foot was pretty black. But you get used to it. I think it's just a mind thing for me."
Shiner's offense is averaging 329.7 yards per game and Mraz has only had to punt 12 times this season.
The Comanches are ranked No. 7 in the Class 1A state poll and will take a 6-1 record and 1-0 District 15-1A, Division I mark into Friday's game against Three Rivers in Shiner.
Mraz has made the most of his opportunities. He gives much of the credit to deep snapper Caleb Kalich.
"My first time I was real nervous, but after that I just kind of settled in and started doing a lot better," Mraz said. "The big thing is proper technique definitely. You have to have the right drop."
Neal is pleased with the job Mraz has done and predicts he will only get better.
"You're looking for somebody with a strong leg first and you can kind of teach them technique after that," Neal said. "It's basically just repetition.
"He's placed the ball pretty well for us," he added. "He's gotten the height when he needed it and he's driven the ball into the wind when we needed it."
Mike Forman is a sports writer for the Victoria Advocate. Contact him at 361-580-6588 or firstname.lastname@example.org, or comment on this column at www.VictoriaAdvocate.com.