One of the two punters planning to walk on to the Illinois football team is Brad Janitz from Walnut Hills High School in Cincinnati. He is the perfect definition of "diamond in the rough" as he was a soccer goalie until his senior year of high school.
"I grew up playing soccer all my life," Janitz explains. "This year I decided to give football a try. It worked out for me pretty well."
Former star Ohio State kicker Tim Williams puts on camps around the country, and Janitz became one of his pupils. One of Williams's camps is on the Illinois campus thanks to his relationship with Illini coach Ron Zook. That relationship paid off for Janitz.
"Tim Williams actually contacted Illinois and talked to Coach Zook a little bit. And then Coach Zook called me and talked to my dad and me. I took a visit up here, and he offered me a slot as a preferred walkon. So I accepted the spot."
The rangy 6'-5" Janitz describes his punting to this point.
"I would say with my height and size, my leg gives me a lot of power. I'm working on my technique, working on everything. But a lot of what got me this far was my power and my ability to learn and adapt my technique to be the best I can be."
Like any special skill, punting requires many hundreds of hours of practice. Janitz did well for his high school team in his first season on the job, but he knows he will continue to improve as he gains experience and repetition.
"I only got to punt in five games. I averaged around 36 yards a punt, but that was my first time playing football. It takes awhile to catch on to everything. I didn't have any formal training before the season. When I started working with Tim Williams, it really has helped boost that a lot.
"We're working on distance now, so I'd say I'm probably kicking it 40, maybe 45 yards on a good day now. It's definitely gonna improve with technique. It's a lot of fun to see it propel and get a lot better."
The two-step punter has naturally good hang time, but he sees that improving as well.
"It's definitely getting a lot better. But with my power, I got a decent amount of hang time during the season. With improved technique, the hang time will come. With more distance comes more hang time. That definitely is a plus."
Janitz has no doubt his athleticism was the deciding factor in getting a chance to punt with the Fighting Illini.
"I think my athleticism gives me the ability to learn very quickly. That's one of the things that really gave me a shot to play at Illinois. I was a soccer goalie, so I'm able to grab errant balls. I have good hands and the athleticism to move. I think the biggest part is learning for me, so it's given me the ability to learn a lot quicker."
Janitz is grateful for the opportunity that lies ahead. He had no football scholarship offers and little interest from colleges.
"Not for football. I had a couple choices for soccer. I talked to Purdue a little bit, but it didn't really work out. And Findlay University in Ohio. But Illinois is the only one that worked out."
Since Illinois didn't have to use a scholarship for Janitz, if he doesn't work out nothing is lost for the school. But if he does end up earning his keep, it will be a truly special story.