Anthony Santella walked onto the Illinois football team after spending a year at Utah. The highlight of his redshirt freshman season was to kick in the Rose Bowl. While he made improvements each year since, inconsistency plagued him.
But now he sports a 48.9 yard punting average after three games and leads the nation. His 47.3 net yards per punt ranks seventh nationally. The senior from Wauconda has evolved into the punter everyone hoped he would become.
Santella has had frustrations over the years. Things haven't always gone smoothly for him. But the value of time is that it helps one forget those problems.
"It's kind of weird. Time flies by. It seems like just yesterday I was here my first year. This is my last go-around. I'm kind of excited for it."
He is quick to praise his teammates for his success. He is especially complimentary of his long snapper.
"Zak Petersen is putting the ball right there, there's great coverage. It gives you a lot of confidence. You put it up there, and the returner is not gonna get much.
"I guess this is Long Snapper U almost. Zak comes in, he's snapping amazing, just as good as Tad (Keely) was. He's doing as well."
Confidence can be fleeting as everyone has ups and downs in life. True confidence develops over time, a result of repetition and experience.
"Confidence is a big thing. You just focus on the things you can control and not worry about things."
Like worrying about the swirling winds of Memorial Stadium. Young punters have had nightmares about punting there, and some never learn to use the wind to advantage. Santella has taken four years to make the wind his friend, but it is finally paying off.
"Yeah, that helps. I know about the windy situation in Memorial Stadium. I definitely feel a lot more at ease and at home when the wind's blowing."
With the 2010 season being his last go-around, Santella became especially dedicated in the off-season.
"Yeah, I got a lot of work done this summer. I did more directional kicking, cleaning it up before the season. My leg is stronger. Lou (Hernandez) had us in the weight room like he always does. Strength and a lot of flexibility stuff. I feel more confident than ever."
Watching him now, it is hard to imagine the 6'-2", 190 pounder having difficulty punting. But freshman walkon Brad Janitz is a reminder of what Santella was like as a youngster.
"A little freshman jitters. I had them when I was a freshman in Utah, and I had them a little when I came here. He'll get them down, and he'll be ready to step in if something happens to me."
There is so much to punting that must be perfected. Many punters fall victim to an inconsistent drop. The ball must be at a precise angle leaving the hand every time for the foot to make consistent contact. Everything must be done with precision, the exact same way every time.
One of the biggest improvements high school punters must make in college is learning to get the kick off quicker.
"It's a little different. (Ron) Zook wants our timing down. They come in from high school, and it's a lot slower game speed."
Many high school punters take 2 or even 3 steps to punt. That must be reduced in college, and it takes time. When they see a college rush coming at them, panic ensues. They get the ball off sooner or ride the bench.
"Yeah, you've got to improve that. It took me awhile when I first came here to get the timing down. But little by little, day by day you get better.
"Brad has been getting better just in the short time we've been working together. He's getting the timing down Zook wants, which is 1.2 seconds. He has a great leg. I'm sure that kid from Florida (Justin DuVernois) is gonna come in ready as well. They'll be good competition by the time I leave."
Punters, kickers and long snappers practice separately from the team. Is it difficult to develop camaraderie with the rest of the team?
"You see us by ourselves during practice, but in the locker room or if we go out, we're always together. We're joking around, everybody gets along real well."
Santella speaks for the whole team when he talks about the improvements brought by the coaching changes in the off season.
"The new coaching staff, you can just tell from being out here, from talking to Zook. (Paul) Petrino I think runs more than the receivers sometimes. They bring the confidence and swagger we need. It gives everyone a boost of energy when we get down and need an extra boost to get through the day."
Zook is happy for Santella.
"I am really proud of Anthony. He worked extremely hard this summer and is really punting well, his operation time, the way he's getting the ball off, the way he's punting the football. He knows we don't want it rolling around in the end zone and that we want it inside the ten. I am very proud of the way he is working.
"Zak Pedersen our long snapper is really one of the reasons because Anthony knows where the ball is going to be and he is able to step into the punt. Both of those guys have really done a nice job."
Santella has seen both the highs and lows of Illinois football. The lows can be devastating if not exorcized. He feels the 2010 version of the Illini team has found a formula that will help them forget the past and have a successful season.
"Short memory. Take the good things, work on the bad things. Just know we can be a good team. As far as I'm concerned, the last two seasons should have been a heck of a lot better. We've just got to prove to the fans and ourselves that we can win some games."