At every open practice, reporters have kept a close eye on B.J. The ever-present questions have been: Has he improved? Is he getting the ball off more quickly than in the past? Is he more consistent? Will he be able to handle the pressure when he is under the gun.
Though I have held off in my opinion on the matter up until this point (the eve of the first game), I believe B.J. has made the transition from young, inconsistent punter to veteran, consistent kicker. Every time I have seen him punt the ball this fall, not only has it been a fine kick with great hang time, but it drops out of the sky like some sort of bomb.
In a recent practice while most of the team was stretching, B.J. was punting. Ashton Youboty and Santonio Holmes were back receiving the kicks. Also in operation was a football machine, shooting the balls out to the returners (if by chance you have never seen one, it is like a pitching machine in baseball but this one is for footballs). B.J.'s kicks were so consistent that they looked as if they were being shot from the machine - only B.J.'s kicks were better. He was getting incredible hang time. So much so that the ball was not coming down at an angle but rather almost at a straight 90 degrees to the ground.
A few minutes later, the team began a drill in which B.J. punts from around the 35-40 yard line in order to pin the opponent deep. On two successive punts, he dropped the ball inside the ten-yard line. Had the gunner been in proper position, both could have been downed inside the five-yard line.
B.J. looks like he is poised to have a great senior year at Ohio State.
After practice, I spoke with BJ. Here are 25 questions with him to whittle away the time before kickoff…
1. Could you talk about some of the changes you have seen while at OSU?
"There have been a lot of changes. The biggest change between coaching styles is coach Cooper pretty much let his assistants coach. He brought in good assistants and let his assistants coach. Coach Tressel pretty much has a hand in everything. He gets in on everything. He knows what is going on at all times. That is one of the biggest changes I have noticed between the coaches."
2. Coach Tressel really puts a lot of emphasis on the punt, how does that affect a punter?
"I think it helps with their confidence. It shows that the coach knows that the punt is the most important plays. He is putting the emphasis on that. It is like you are as important as the offense or the defense. I think it's true. I mean, special teams is 1/3 of the game; it's very important."
3. What has been your greatest moment at OSU (non-Fiesta Bowl)?
"Probably beating Michigan the past two years. It has been a great feeling beating them the past two years."
4. What has been your worst moment at OSU?
"The worst moment at Ohio State had to be my freshman year when we went 6 and 6 and did not make a bowl game."
5. What are your personal goals as a senior?
"Personal goal is to have the best year I have had here. I want to average 47 yards a punt and would like to be first team All American and win the Ray Guy award."
6. Who has had the biggest influence in your life?
"I have to say my parents - my dad especially. He has always been there for me, and he has always been there supporting me. He has been to every game of mine except for two."
7. Who has had the greatest influence on you outside of your parents?
"I have to say probably my fiancé. I have been with her for going on 6 years now. She has been through a lot with me."
8. What is your strength as a player?
"My greatest strength as a player is probably my hang time. When I hit the ball consistently - I am hitting it very high. I am usually around 4.7 - 4.8."
9. What has been your greatest weakness or something you have worked the hardest to overcome?
"Probably my consistency. A lot of people question my consistency coming in, and I have worked a lot on that over the off-season. Just being consistent, hitting the ball pure every time."
10. What are your dreams outside of football?
"Outside of football I would actually like to start my own landscaping business. I am in the agricultural school for turf/grass management and my brothers - both of my brothers are also interested in landscaping business."
11. Would you hire your brothers and then make them call you "Mr. boss man"?
"Ahh… I would probably work with them. (Smiling) I don't know that it would work too well with me bossing them around since they are both older than me."
12. You have spent a good deal of time waiting for this moment in your career. What did you do to prepare?
"I used the past two years battling with Andy to prepare myself for this. I worked on fine tuning some of the small things in my punting technique, and I think I am ready to go."
13. What question do you hate the most?
"Being asked about Clarett."
14. What is one thing that fans might be surprised to know about you?
"I don't know…I am pretty much your average guy."
15. What are your hobbies?
"I like to golf. I like to golf a lot."
16. How are you as a golfer?
"It depends on the day. Some days are better than others (laughing)."
17. What do you like most about football?
"It teaches you to work well with others. It gives you a chance to let loose - pretty much do whatever you feel like doing. It gives you the opportunity if you are having a bad day to go out and hit somebody."
18. What is the most difficult aspect of punting that those who have never done it might not understand?
"There are a lot of aspects that are difficult, but I would have to say - getting consistent with the drop would probably be the hardest thing for people at home to comprehend."
19. How long do you have to get the ball off?
"We shoot for 1.9 seconds including the snap. We have what we call our hand to foot time. The time I catch the ball to the time I kick it is 1.2 seconds."
20. How many steps are you taking?
"I take 2 ½."
21. How many did Andy Groom take?
"He took 2 ½ also. He changed it up a little bit depending on the situation. Coming out of the end zone, yeah - you are going to take 1 ½, but sometimes you can take 2 ½. It all depends on what the situation is. As long as you can get the ball off in under 1.9, you can kick it however you would like."
22. Have you talked to any former OSU kickers?
"Not really. I have talked to a couple of guys when they have been around. I've talked to Brent Bartholomew, and Scott Terna has been around some, and I have talked to those guys just to see how they handled different situations."
23. What is the most difficult situation for a player to handle?
"I would say…when the pressure is on. When it is crunch time and you have to perform - otherwise you are in trouble."
24. What do you want fans to remember about the 2003 team?
"Being great. I think we have a great chance to repeat. I want everyone to remember us as a great team."
25. How do you want fans to remember you personally?
"I forget who it was who told me, but if the punter is doing his job nobody knows their name. I would almost rather - I want to be remembered as a great punter, but as long as I can go out and do my job, everybody is happy with what I am doing. That is how I want to be remembered; being able to do everything right."