Justin DuVernois came to Illinois as a highly rated punter, based on his performance at specialized kicking camps. But he received precious few opportunities at national power St. Thomas Aquinas High School in Florida. After all, a team loaded with college prospects rarely needs to punt.
"I punted 29 times in high school," DuVernois remembers.
But when he took the field for the Fighting Illini against Arkansas State, he handled it well despite first game jitters.
"It was a great experience. I was nervous. But it was good my first punt was after the safety, so I didn't have to worry about the rush or anything."
While his high school punt total was low, he had the benefit of experience with pressurized situations.
"I think it'll help. My first punt was in Dallas at Cowboy Stadium. I think that will help me in a place like Michigan, so that the stadiums won't be as distracting."
He has also competed favorably against top-notch college punters.
"Last year in the fall I went to FIU's punting camp and punted against the punter that went to Nebraska. I did pretty well, and I think that helped out."
Several of his punts against Arkansas State were into the teeth of a strong wind. Needing to kick low to cut through the wind, his distance (37.7 yard average) and hang time were lower than normal. While it is never possible to defeat swirling Memorial Stadium winds on a consistent basis, his previous practice helped.
"I definitely tried to get in the Stadium as much as I could to get used to it."
When he is at his best, DuVernois kicks long, high spirals that travel 45-50 yards with great hang time. It may take awhile to hit those beauties consistently, but his rapid development as a punter should bode well for his future.
"I started punting my sophomore year, so I haven't been at it that long."
The biggest change for any punter coming from high school is the speed of the rush. Many punters never learn to relax and speed up their motion enough to punt consistently at the college level. DuVernois appears to be an exception.
"Coach (Ron) Zook wants me to quicken up my steps and get it off on the timing he wants. Mainly work on my consistency and staying focused. I try to tune out the rush a little bit, but it's certainly different than high school football."
The Plantation, Florida, native wonders how the winters will be in Champaign. More than likely, adjusting to cold and snow may be tougher than becoming a college punter.
"So far the weather has been about the same, but everyone tells me the winters are tough."
Zook is pleased with the progress DuVernois is making.
"Justin is gonna be a great punter, there's no question about that. But he was on such a great high school football team, they didn't punt very much. He's gonna be fine."
DuVernois appears capable of learning quickly. He plans to take each game in stride and work on continued improvement as he goes along.
"I feel pretty good, I just want to take the last week and move onto the next week. I definitely expect better from me next week."