Punting Again

Tyler Campbell didn't get in on any game action in the first year of the Hugh Freeze era last year, and it wasn't because he wasn't good enough. He certainly had proven he was the past three seasons at Ole Miss.

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But now Campbell, of Little Rock, Ark., is once again the starting punter for Ole Miss. It's his fifth and final season, and he will be an important factor to whatever success the Rebels have this season.

Freeze did the same thing with senior placekicker Andrew Ritter. He stated this time last year he was doing so simply because he wanted the two excellent veterans to be the placekicker and punter this year.

And also because he had faith in seniors Bryson Rose and Jim Broadway as well as freshman Nathan Noble to get the job done. And for the most part they came through.

Broadway did all the punting and wound up averaging 41 yards on 57 punts with a long one of 61 yards.

Rose did all the placekicking, went 18 for 28 in the field goal department with a long of 53 yards, and kicked the game-winner at Arkansas with a 31-yarder as time expired.

Freeze said after the season he was pleased that, for the most part, his decision to hold both veterans out until this year worked.

"I'm glad I got away with that one," he smiled and said last year since the Rebels' specialists had gotten the job done.

Now the attention turns to the two veterans, in this case Campbell, whose booming punts and strong leg had become apparent from his freshman season with the Rebels. That was a long time ago now, and he's put in the time and effort to be the best he can be in 2013.

"I worked on my fundamentals and tried to get as consistent as I could," Campbell said of the last year. "Obviously sitting out a year, that was the goal, to work and get better and be as good as I could be this year."

There are even more details about what Campbell did to get better for his final season of college football.

Tyler Campbell
Josh McCoy

"I worked on directional punting, putting the ball where I wanted it to be," he said. "I know if I have a chance to pursue my dream of putting at the next level, I'll have to be able to put the ball where they want it to be."

And he admits the NFL is in his thoughts. But that's nothing unusual for a potential prospect to make the league, or any player for that matter.

"Obviously I want to help this team be the best we can be right now," he said. "It's Ole Miss first. But my dream since I was a kid is to be in the NFL. If I have the opportunity to do that, that would be a dream come true. But right now it's all Ole Miss."

The fact that Campbell has been around so long and been through so much with this program, he believes he's prepared for a special season this fall.

"Experience helps a lot," the 6-foot-2, 230-pounder said. "I've punted out of my own end zone. All that keeps me calm from an experience standpoint. Right now I think I'm better at pooch punting than I was back then. I got criticized a lot my sophomore year for punting into the end zone a lot. So I've really focused on that, and I think I'm a lot better now than I was."

Campbell said preparation for punting in games with the current coaching staff is basically the same as it was under the previous staff. With one exception.

"Obviously with (former Rebel assistant) Coach (James) Shibest, he was the rugby guy," Campbell said of the time when they converted him from straight-on punter to a running-rugby style punter. "The philosophy is the same. But this year we're not doing the rugby punt. Really that's the only difference in the two staffs."

That's clearly fine with Campbell. He did the rugby style but prefers what he'd always done. Now that's what he can do again.

"I think personally it messed up my leg swing," he said. "It's a totally different leg swing running out to the side. Even when I was trying to kick it normal, my leg came across. Because that's what it was used to doing.

"It was done for field position and also to keep the ball away from the returner. Every week you play a dangerous returner in this league. We figured if the ball was rolling hot on the ground, they wouldn't pick it up and it would roll a long way."

The Rebels open in less than a month at Vanderbilt. Campbell can't wait to be back on the field in a game. Last year it was tough 13 times to be on the sidelines, but one time in particular.

"Little Rock was the hardest one for me to watch," Campbell said of the Rebels' victory in War Memorial Stadium. "It was the stadium where my high school team played. The first couple of games of the season were hard, too. I realized it was all out of my hands. I just worked hard to get better for this year."

His goals for 2013? They go beyond numbers.

"It's hard to give a number to an average, because so many things factor into it – pooch punts, situational punts, things like that," he said. "My goal is just to be the best punter I can be in any situation and give this team the best chance to win. I want to be able to provide that for them."

And, of course, August 29 can't get here fast enough.

"It feels like it's a whole other excitement level," Campbell said of this year's preseason as opposed to last year when he knew what was ahead of him. "The whole Thursday night on ESPN game at Vanderbilt is just making all this so exciting.

"It's year two. All the skill players are more comfortable and know what they'll be doing. The big recruiting class that came in, there's just so much excitement around the program. That's another reason I was OK with redshirting, because I knew we were on the rise, and I want to help this team become a good program that the nation knows about."

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