Fenstermaker: The Natural

At a young age, Andy Fenstermaker learned he might have a knack for punting. He stuck with the skill and has emerged as a weapon for the Iowa Hawkeyes. The junior silenced Ohio State's potent return men, Ted Ginn and Santonio Holmes, last week in Columbus. Read more about how this Mount Pleasant native became a Hawkeye, how he got started punting, how he feels about his competition with John Gallery and more in his HN.com Feature by Senior Writer Rob Howe.

The Mount Pleasant seventh grade coaches lined up players for a tryout. Each one was given a football and asked to punt it. Andy Fenstermaker's ball traveled the farthest. He found his calling.

"It was something (at which) I excelled at that age," Fenstermaker said. "It wasn't great, but it was somewhat natural."

Ten years later, the junior has emerged as the No. 1 punter for his favorite childhood team – the Iowa Hawkeyes. He took possession of the position last Saturday at Ohio State after sharing the duties with senior John Gallery during the first three weeks of the season.

Iowa Coach Kirk Ferentz stopped short of proclaiming Fenstermaker the winner of the punter sweepstakes. He did, however, say Fenstermaker has performed a little better than Gallery (mostly in hang time) and that sealed the decision to use just one of them in Columbus even though both guys made the trip.

"(Fenstermaker) performed pretty darn well," Ferentz said. "I thought our coverage was excellent for the most part, and that starts with your punter giving you a chance to cover. I still have great faith in John Gallery. If we were traveling this week, they both would go. They are both doing a really good job. That is a strength for us. But you can only play one punter."

Fenstermaker punted seven times for an average of 43.3 yards per attempt, which also is his seasonal average. He ranked second in the Big Ten this week. Gallery rated fourth in the league (42.6) on seven tries.

"I wouldn't say that I've won the job yet," Fenstermaker said. "A lot of the coaches have emphasized the minute you become complacent is the minute you're susceptible to maybe losing that job. The starting position, I'm not going to assume that it's mine for the season. Me and John are really close as far as ability goes. It's really going to come down to week in and week out who's going to be performing the best."

Fenstermaker showed tremendous concentration on Saturday with 105,000 fans against him at Ohio Stadium and dangerous return men, Ted Ginn Jr. and Santonio Holmes, ready to ignite the crowd. They brought back just two of the seven attempts and didn't gain a yard.

"The guys up front of have been working on the punt unit for many years," Fenstermaker said. "It's a great booster for your confidence that those guys are going to do a great job up there; that your snap is going to be there every single time. That really gives you a lot less to worry about. You can just go out there and punt the ball. It helps to not have to worry about those eight or nine guys that are trying to get that ball."

Iowa noticed Fenstermaker's ability when he camped with the Hawkeyes during the summer before his senior year at Mount Pleasant High School. They invited him to walk on, but he instead chose to attend Division II Missouri Western State, where averaged 38.5 yards per punt as a true freshman in 2002.

However, Fenstermaker (6-3, 221) felt like he was missing an opportunity to get better as a punter. Missouri Western employed its starting quarterback as its backup punter, and Fenstermaker often was left to work on his own.

"I didn't have any role models to look up to or get pointers from," Fenstermaker said. "It's been great here having (David) Bradley last year and John, also."

Fenstermaker knew that Bradley would be punting in '03 and '04, but felt he would get a chance when the job opened up this season. He did worry sometimes about leaving a place where he was the starter to risk possibly never getting to punt again in college.

"When I came here, the coaches never said that I didn't have the ability at that point," Fenstermaker said. "They encouraged me. That was a great confidence booster to know that the coaches had faith that you have potential to punt here. I was nervous a few times that maybe I wouldn't get a chance to punt. But it's a great atmosphere here. I'm getting a great education. I wasn't complaining."

Bradley set strong examples for Fenstermaker, who the coaches told to work on consistency and form.

"It always amazed me how mentally tough he was," Fenstermaker said of Bradley. "He always prepared each week and gave me an idea of what to do week in and week out to get ready for Saturdays."

The Iowa punters work on hitting 20-25 game-situational attempts during practices on Tuesday and Wednesday. They scale it back on Thursdays to get their legs refreshed.

"A lot of it is working situations you might face in the game as far as pooch punting or punting it out of the end zone," Fenstermaker said.

Nothing could prepare Fenstermaker for the atmosphere at Ohio State. It was a sea of red.

"When you get out there you might notice everyone," he said. "But as soon as that ball is snapped, it's amazing how quickly your attention goes to one thing and that's just the ball and your foot and making contact."

Fenstermaker didn't feel being the exclusive punter at Ohio State helped him get into a better rhythm than when he was alternating with Gallery.

"It all comes down to preparation," he said. "I feel like in any week John or I or both of us can do the job."

Similarly, switching punters throughout a game does not upset the production of the punt team, Fenstermaker said.

"Us rotating doesn't really affect the continuity as long as we're doing the job that we're out there to do," he said. "I don't think it's as big of a deal as it would be with a quarterback. There are a lot more aspects to that job. Me and John have one job to do. It's to go out there and punt the ball."

Fenstermaker, an elementary education major, also plays an important role on the Hawkeyes' field goal unit. He holds for kicker Kyle Schlicher.

"Holding is something that is new to me," Fenstermaker said. "I kicked in high school. I worked a little bit on it down in Missouri, but not a whole lot. I didn't really work on it my first year here."

Bradley held for Schlicher last season and Nate Kaeding before that.

"Kyle and the coaches mentioned something about maybe messing around with it a little bit because Dave was going to be leaving," Fenstermaker said. "It is also helpful to be able to work with Kyle through practice while other guys are off working on specific drills. It's great to get some continuity between the snapper and the holder and also the kicker. It's something I've been playing around with. Fortunately I've been blessed with the opportunity to do it."

Fenstermaker joins a long list of Mount Pleasant alumni that have advanced to Division I football. Matt Melloy plays wide receiver for Iowa, and former Hawkeye Tim Dodge also comes from the town about 50 miles south of Iowa City.

"A lot of it comes from coaching," Fenstermaker said. "The (Mount Pleasant) coaches really emphasize the team atmosphere down there and good work ethic. That helps a lot."

Fenstermaker grew up rooting for the Hawkeyes, and his family has gotten a big thrill out of seeing him wear the Black and Gold of Iowa.

"My parents are enjoying the opportunity," he said. "They're definitely going through their proud parent phase. They're happy to see that I've reached something I've worked for. They've been behind me 100 percent from the day I've started. There have been rough times, but they've been there to support me. They just tell me to keep my head up if things aren't going right."

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