The trajectory of Erich Toth

Redshirt sophomore punter Erich Toth has made the most of his opportunities since learning how to punt as a junior in high school.

Overcome with emotion, Erich Toth's mother couldn't help but cry when she heard the good news.

After a tightly contested competition that began in the spring and extended through fall camp, Toth had beaten out Nick Campos for the starting punter job and earned one of the final scholarships available.

He first called his brother, Jon, a lineman at Kentucky who had been a constant form of support throughout the position battle. He then tried to reach his mom, who didn't pick up. When his dad finally delivered the news to his mom, she couldn't contain herself knowing her son had earned something he badly wanted.

Now in his first full season, Toth has brought stability to what has been a struggling unit in recent years for the Hoosiers. Like the flight of the ball off his foot, Toth's landing spot as IU's punter is as much about the journey as the final destination.

"To know that I worked my way up and was able to start last year and then work all the way the winter, through the spring, through the summer and compete really hard in camp and then finally earn that scholarship, it was a huge relief," Toth said. "And now I need to just go out and perform, and perform like a scholarship player."

A goalie his whole life, Toth didn't begin punting until his junior year in high school at Brebeuf Jesuit in Indianapolis.

Toth got his inspiration from former U.S. National Team goalkeeper Tim Howard, who worked his way up from the MLS ranks to play overseas in Europe before earning his long-time spot with the national team. Toth figured that if Howard could make that kind of ascent, he could become a good punter.

"Once I started kicking the ball I realized this is where my passion was and this is what I wanted to do," Toth said. "I've pursued that and it's worked out so far."

It didn't hurt that Toth had immediate success at the position. As a junior in high school and in his first season as a punter, Toth lead the state of Indiana in punting average. Some might say Toth is a natural athlete — he also lettered in lacrosse one year — but it took dedication to learn the finer points of punting.

"It's not like the transition was easy for him," Jon Toth said. "He definitely put in a lot of long hours trying to develop the technique and stuff, to get the spin on the ball right. And I think there's still a lot more room for him to work and get his consistency down."

Despite being named an honorable mention all-state and an all-county selection as a senior, Toth didn't get a scholarship offer from IU, and enrolled with the plan of walking on. Jon and Erich agreed his future was brighter in football, where a full scholarship was possible, than in soccer, where one wasn't guaranteed.

His experience as a freshman walk-on was a grueling one.

With several punters in front of him on the depth chart, Toth was redshirted. He lifted every weekday at 6 a.m. knowing he wouldn't play. At the very least he was allowed to dress for games and get a taste of the game day experience.

Toth caught a big break last season when starter Mitchell Voss went down with an injury week five vs. Michigan State. He started the final seven games of 2012, and finishing with an average of 39.5 yards per punt, two punts of 50 or more yards and seven punts downed inside the 20.

It wasn't enough to lock up the starting position for 2013. Toth would have to battle with Campos, a redshirt freshman who was second-team All State as a senior at Wheaton-Warrenville South in Wheaton, Ill.

Toth was prepared for the battle thanks to his tough first year with program but his relationship with his brother may have helped put him make it over the top. Their indoctrination as competitive athletes started at a young age.

Jon said he and his brother got into to "tussles" on a daily basis. As the older brother, Erich would often pick on the younger Jon, like when Erich invited his friends over for street hockey. With Jon in goal, Erich and his friends relentlessly pummeled Jon with slap shots.

Jon now blocks opposing lineman instead of slap shots as the starting center at Kentucky. It speaks volumes that a player who endures a snarling linemen breathing down his neck every snap was quick to praise his brother — who draws a 15-yard penalty if touched — for having "a tough skin."

"Him and his friends would always gang up on me and beat me up sometimes, Jon said. "I'd usually go inside crying but I think him beating up on me and us getting after each other as kids kind of made us tough like we are today."

Erich needed all of that toughness, mental or otherwise, while competing with Campos for the starting job in August. While Jon helped Erich develop a physical toughness as kids, he helped Erich conquer the mental aspects of competition during the position battle. The two talked on a near-daily basis.

As brothers and athletes, they are uniquely qualified to push one another.

"We understand that environment and that it really helps to have somebody by your side, especially in your family, that knows you really well to be there and encourage you," Jon said.

Thankfully for Toth, his relationship with Campos is one of cordiality and mutual benefit. Unlike on an NFL roster, Indiana can afford to keep multiple punters on the roster following the preseason, and the question of both players' livelihood isn't on the line. The two critiqued each other throughout the battle and became better punters for it.

"His big thing is he's been hitting the ball real well, nice and high, he's really taught me to swing up and hit the ball a lot higher, a lot farther," Toth said of Campos. "The way he's pushed me has really helped me become a better punter and I'm glad he's here just to do that for me."

Toth said he ultimately won the job because he was more consistent than Campos. The move has proven to be a wise decision. Toth has increased his average to 40.7 yards per punt and has already doubled the number of 50-plus yard punts from last year with four in 2013.

In order to improve the ability to pin opponents inside the 20, Toth has worked to perfect the Australian-style punt, in which a punter drops the ball with the nose facing straight down to decrease distance and create backspin.

That too, has improved: Toth already has nine punt this season inside the 20 with five games to play. Last year he had seven for the season.

Toth also faces the challenge of staying loose between punts, which is only made more difficult when Indiana's potent offense gets on a roll. Special Teams Coordinator James Patton likes what he's seen from his specialists in that regard.

"They know the flow of the game," Patton said. "They'll see with our offense, if they get behind the chains on first down or second down they'll start to get warmed up, start to do their drop. They're into the game. They know what they have to do and when they've got to do it.

"And they know when they go on the field it's a pretty big play."

Patton said Toth's primary area for improvement is needs to decrease the time it takes to get his punts off. Otherwise, he's happy with Toth's performance through seven games.

"He's got quite a bit of hang time and good distance," Patton said. "He's worked hard and he's going to continue to work hard. I know he's a competitive kid, but just fine-tuning some of those things."

From goalie to walk-on to the starting punter on scholarship, Toth has taken each stop in stride. Like a ball that has just left his foot, Toth's trajectory was unclear when he first started punting in high school. Through perseverance, dedication and hard work, he has landed in a good spot.

"It's been a long, long process now that I think about it but it's all been worth it," he said. "I've met a lot of good guys and I'm glad I stuck with it."

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