Back to the Basics

NORMAN, Okla. — It's so often seen in sports how one game can really propel a single player or an entire team.

Well, that's what the Insight Bowl did for punter Tress Way.

In that game, Way blasted his season-long 67-yard punt late in the first quarter, shifting field position from the OU 3-yard line to the Iowa 30-yard line.

He also racked up punts of 59-, 49-, 46-, 44- and 37-yards for an average of 50.3 yards per punt and placed one inside the 20.

Five of those six punts were above his season average of 42 yards per punt.

Prior to that, he wasn't hitting the ball with as much authority, sometimes striking them mechanically unsoundly.

The numbers weren't too horrible, as he still managed a greater percentage of his punts inside the 20 in the first 12 outings than he did in the bowl game.

In all, Way pounded 33 of his 57 boots, or 57.9 percent, in the red zone up until that solid performance

.

But he wasn't getting ahold of them all that well.

"You know, honestly I wasn't doing awful," Way said. "You know, we had a lot of pooch punts last year, and I was doing my job with putting them inside the 20. But I know that I have the potential to hit really good balls, you know, hang them up high, tight spirals, and I wasn't doing that for the most part. And it was because I was pressing so hard on myself. I'm a very competitive guy, so I was wanting the absolute best out of myself and, you know, honestly I could say I was a little disappointed going up to that game and that game definitely made me feel a lot better, got to relax and play."

The 6-foot-1, 218-pound left footer admits one thing changed between the regular season and the bowl game.

This one thing, which he alluded to in that first statement, helped him perform better.

"That Insight Bowl, through Arizona, it just got back to being fun again," Way said. "And I got to just go out there and relax and as much as I hate to admit it, I know every punt's not going to be perfect. But it's definitely worth it because whenever I just relax and hit it smooth like in that Insight Bowl, I just have the ability to change the field. So, I'm just kinda taking a step back and just playing the game."

It's another overstated theme, but players that have fun with the game or get lost in it typically don't worry about all the other subtleties and just use their natural ability.

For Way, he's got plenty of that.

And that's what a certain figure in his life and a close teammate reiterated prior to that successful showing in OU's 31-14 victory over Iowa.

"You know, honestly I had a really long talk with my dad and with some of the players on the team, particularly Michael Hunnicutt," Way said. "And last year, you know, I know there was a lot of expectations for me, but I promise nobody expected more out of me than myself. And so I was really, really critiquing myself so much on like my mechanics, my form and all this different stuff and I forgot to just go out and just love the game and just play.

"And so that Insight Bowl, talking with my dad mostly and then Hunnicutt, they were like, ‘Man, Tress, you got one of the strongest legs in the nation. Just go out and play.'

Way certainly did so.

He's carried that momentum into the off-season, where he's now taken up another duty.

Way has been operating as Hunnicutt's holder in field goal formation throughout spring ball, and it's come pretty natural to him as well.

"It's not too bad," Way said. "The thing that's honestly the toughest part is like getting it in the exact spot because, you know, you set your two fingers down exactly where Hunnicutt's gonna be going with the ball and I mean just every couple inches matters. So, the spin is not too bad. Austin Woods is a great snapper, and we've got the distance down to where he gives me the laces and it's perfect. But just finding that spot like I keep getting better, and I got awhile until our first game, so it's fun, though."

So much so, that he admitted he'd "keep doing it if I need to."

Along with Way's increased focus on just having fun while punting the ball, it appears the Sooners have put a heavier emphasis on the entire special teams as a whole.

The duties are still split up amongst the coaching staff, with running backs coach Cale Gundy handling kickoff return, head coach Bob Stoops taking care of punt team and defensive backs coach Bobby Jack Wright overseeing kickoff cover and punt return.

But Wright is now more closely monitoring everything, Way said, because "he really knows what's going on being around the game for a while."

Way likes that little wrinkle.

"It's nice to have a relationship with a special teams coach again, and I like working for him," Way said. "He's hilarious and he definitely lets you know what he wants."

The Sooners know what they want out of Way.

Way knows what he wants out of himself: more consistency and stronger punts for a guy who certainly boasts one of the best legs in the country.

He's on his way and ready to do so his senior year for the Sooners.

Follow me at twitter.com/joeyhelmer10 or facebook.com/joeyhelmer.


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