When it comes to putting foot to football at Marshall, Curtis Head is it this season. He spent the summer getting ready for the kicking overload.
"I just did what I've been doing ever since I started kicking," said Head, a junior from Shelbyville, Kentucky. "And that was just trying to kick every day, or if not every day at least four to five times a week. Hit the field for an hour and a half and just kick. I tried not to wear my leg out, but just kick nice and smooth. When I practice, I'm all about the fundamentals, so that when game times comes you don't have to think about it, you just do it."
Head knows that kicking isn't an exact science. Kickers are prone to inevitable slumps. He's believes the key is having confidence in his ability to translate the results from the practice field to game situations.
"When I practice, it all depends on how I feel," mused Head of his practice routine. "I've had some days when I can go out there and just kick all day. I've had times when I can go out and kick three times in a single day. Then there are other times when I will go out and kick for just 30 or 40 minutes. If my leg is getting tired and I've been kicking well, I will just take it in for the day. But when I'm in the mode to increase my stamina, I can go two or three hours in a single stretch."
By taking on the added responsibilities of field goals and kickoffs this season, Head must protect against the kickers' worst enemy, the dreaded "dead leg." It's a malady that can turn even the best kicker into a potential liability.
"Avoiding dead leg is something I think I've been blessed with," said Head. "For some reason, I can kick a lot longer than most people. I don't know if it has something to do with kicking every day during my high school days. I used to work out with the kicker at U.K. and after two hours he'd be dead, while I could go on for another hour. Maybe that's just weird and that's just me."
Standing on the Marshall sidelines during games, the five-foot-eleven, 170-pound Curtis Head is easy to pick out because he's not as big or as wide as most of his Herd teammates and that suits him fine. In fact, he thinks that his muscles-or rather the lack of them-are among the keys to his success.
"I don't have a lot of muscles and I don't use a lot of muscles when I kick," laughed Head. "That may be part of it. My kicking style may be just smooth enough that I don't tire easily."
While Head is making his mark at Marshall with his punting ability, he worries that the kickoffs do have the potential to eventually drain him, physically and mentally. Head began to come to that realization while kicking off for both teams during Marshall's spring game.
"It's those kickoffs that can tire you out," warned Head. "On the punts and the field goals, you want to concentrate on being smooth. But on those kickoffs, you want to be smooth, but you also want to kill the ball. In the spring game, I kicked off six or seven times that day and I hadn't kicked off since high school (Shelby County) really. All told between the kickoffs, punts, field goals and extra points, I probably had thirty kicks. It was really hot that day and I did start getting out of my form. That's when I know I'm starting to get tired."
Now that he's handling all of the Herd's kicking duties, Head believes that it makes him more of an integral part of the team. He realizes that it 's no longer a matter of if he will see the field during a game, but when. Head prefers keeping his head in the game, so to speak.
"I love doing it all," exclaimed Head with a broad smile. "It's a lot more fun because you are in the flow of the game a lot more. You know more than likely you will kick once every series unless there's a turnover. I'm the kicker right now until I get beat out and I wouldn't have it any other way."
Head was introduced to the pressure-packed world of college football in his first game at Marshall. As a true freshman in 1999, Head's first collegiate punt came out of his own end zone moments after the Herd and Clemson got rolling in front of eighty-thousand screaming fans in Death Valley. Marshall spoiled Tommy Bowden's Clemson debut that night 13-10 en route to an undefeated season and Head's baptism by fire confirmed his belief in his ability to get the job done, no matter the circumstances.
"Lots of people feel that it (punting) isn't a big part of the game, but they are wrong," warned Head. "One of the things I love best about punting is with one kick I can take the crowd out of the game. If I can knock one 65 yards out of my end zone that shuts up the crowd and kills the momentum our opponents think they have. A good punt can swing a game back into our favor. A punter lives for those moments when you only get out there a few times a game."
Ohio's Dave Zastudill is on pace to become the first man to ever lead the MAC in punting four years in a row. But the Bobcats are winless so far this year after going oh-for-September following season-opening losses to Akron, West Virginia and Iowa State. Curtis Head would prefer to focus on Marshall's team goals right now.
"We have a great chance to be very good again," said Head, who is averaging 39.6 yards per punt after three games. "I'm just happy to play my part in that."