“He’s a bit unique.”
Head coach Brian Kelly’s comment on Newsome’s personality last October proved accurate, both between the lines and in front of a microphone.
Newsome’s rookie season in South Bend produced outstanding metrics as a punter in congress with solid, promising numbers in his dual role of kickoff specialist.
A whopping 44.5 yards per punt with 21 of his 84 boots traveling in excess of 50 yards highlighted his 2015 season. Add 21 punts that pinned foes inside their own 20-yard line vs. 8 touchbacks and Newsome’s debut ranked as one of the best in program history.
That pales in comparison – well, at least for media members in search of less-structured interviews – to Newsome’s eccentric demeanor.
"God's blessed me with natural ability and I try to platform that and build on that,” he told reporters of his chief passion, one not normally associated with a punter – the weight room.
“It’s awesome. I love that place. I would argue we have the hardest group of specialists in the country. We go to work everyday, all six of us, Sam (Kohler), Justin (Yoon), Jeff (Riney), John (Chereson), Scott (Daly), myself. I think it’s a mindset at this point. We don’t want to be out-worked, we want to be the best in the country.
“I love going in the weight room and tearing it up.”
Irish Illustrated’s A-to-Z preview of Notre Dame’s roster continues with Newsome, Notre Dame’s best bet for an end-season national award in 2016.
The Ray Guy Award. Newsome’s that good.
Notre Dame’s single-season record for net punting is 45.4 yards set by Geoff Price (2006). Price broke the 15-season record set by long-time NFL’er Craig Hentrich (44.9 in 1990 as a sophomore). Hentrich has the edge on Price for career punt average under the Dome (44.1 to 43.6) – both marks are under the watchful eye of Newsome, a future pro capable of such lofty standards.
To his punting exploits Newsome must continue to add depth and hang time on kickoffs. Though both of his end-season averages will be impacted by the 10 other players on punt and kickoff coverage units, if Newsome does his job, it should rub off on the efforts of the “Rangers” under special teams coach Scott Booker’s guidance.
Now where’s Matthias Farley when you need him?
Accolades aside, the key to Newsome’s season is eradicating the ill-timed shank, as two of his most “memorable” punts last season put the Irish defense behind the 8-ball in terms of field position. (And as Notre Dame fans know well, Brian VanGorder’s unit has not responded well to such adverse conditions.)
Newsome’s only notable shanks occurred at Clemson and Temple, with both later resulting in crucial scores – for the Tigers, a touchdown and 14-0 lead; for the Owls, their go-ahead field goal with less than three minutes to play.
Poor punts in crunch time situations vs. the likes of Michigan State, Stanford, Miami or at USC would likely not bode well for the Irish defense.
It is a guarantee that Newsome will punt well over the course of 13 games this season. But he’s human, and any small sampling of miscues can’t come in crunch-time.
Hentrich immediately comes to mind. The best punter (and perhaps tied with Hunter Smith as the best punter/athlete) in Notre Dame history, Hentrich performed triple duty as a kickoff and field goal specialist for Lou Holtz’s Irish from 1989-92.
(His most memorable boot was a 77-yard moon shot vs. Colorado in the 1990 Orange Bowl to punt the Irish out of trouble.)
Newsome knows of Hentrich, of his exploits and records in South Bend, and certainly of the NFL first million-dollar contract signed by the Irish great in the late 1990s. At the time, punter was the lone position not yet to garner the million-dollar moniker in professional football.
DEVELOPMENT VS. RECRUITING RANKING
The Carrollton, Ga. product was billed as a three-star prospect by Scout.com during the 2014 recruiting cycle after being named to Atlanta Journal Constitution Class AAAA squad in 2013.
After redshirting as a freshman in South Bend, Newsome surpassed the solid performance of punting predecessor Kyle Brindza who averaged 41.5 yards per boot.
The next step for Newsome is to approach Brindza’s consistency on kickoffs (63.3 per kickoff with 52 touchbacks and just three that sailed out of bounds as a senior).
For the sake of comparison, Newsome kicked five out of bounds (a penalty that results in field position at the 40-yard line for opposing offenses) and had 21 touchbacks, averaging 61.6 per kickoff in his first season performing the task last fall.
Though a punter is unlikely to receive the “honor” of four-star status, it’s clear Newsome was among the best specialists in the 2014 cycle and has surpassed the expectations of those outside the Notre Dame coaching staff.
NEWSOME AT HIS BEST
Technically it was the 2016 Blue Gold Game for which he was named MVP in a dominant performance punting for both teams, annihilating punted footballs to the tune of 52-plus yards per pop including a pair dropped inside the 8-yard line.
Normally Blue Gold Game exploits should be ignored. In Newsome’s case, consider it his commitment to continuous improvement and a sign of things to come.
-- When it technically mattered, Newsome averaged 55.8 yards on four punts at Virginia, 52.4 on five against UMass, 51.8 on four at Pittsburgh, 51.5 at Stanford, and 48.2 on six boots against Ohio State.
He added a late game, expertly placed 33-yarder downed at the USC 1-yard line, effectively sealing victory vs. the rival Trojans in South Bend.
QUOTES TO NOTE
“With me it’s just a personal goal to improve and prove that last year wasn’t’ good enough. I don’t want to stop until I hopefully beat the record here. Our goal as a punt unit is to have the No. 1 net punt in the country and last year we weren’t there. That’s been my motivation in the off-season to get more hang time so we can have a better net punt and help the defense with the field position.” – Newsome prior to the 2016 Blue Gold Game