Rob Park -

Ole Miss senior Punter Rob Park, who was the Rebel punter his freshman and sophomore years, rededicated himself after a disappointing junior year that saw him lose his job. The result has been satisfying. Read about it inside.

Senior Punter Rob Park's numbers through nine games will not knock your socks off.

A lot of punters can, and do, average 39.8 yards per kick.

But if you take a closer look at his effort, you'll see why the coaches are heaping praise on Park.

He's punted 41 times through nine games, but over half of those, 24 to be exact, have either been fair caught or downed inside the opponent's 20 - exactly what the coaches have requested.

Add to that Park hasn't had a kick blocked - which is also a credit to his protection and snapper, and you can see why Rebel Coach Houston Nutt and Special Teams Coordinator James Shibest have been elated about Rob's performance thus far.

"Rob has been a major factor in us winning the field position battle in most of our games," Nutt commented. "We face some of the best return men in the nation each week and Rob, and good coverage, have kept that at bay every week.

"He's good at angling his kicks to the sideline when we need it, getting good hang time to force fair catches and kicking the ball dead inside the 20. He's also quick to get the kick off and has been very consistent in doing what we ask him to do. We'll take a 40-yard kick with no return every single time."

Park, after losing the job he held in 2005 and 2006 to Justin Sparks in 2007, feels he's a totally different punter now than in the past.

"We are very confident out there," said Park. "I know I'm going to get good protection, a great snap by Preston Powers and our gunners - Dustin Mouzon and Lionel Breaux - are going to get the return guy down in a hurry. They force a lot of fair catches with their speed down the field."

But how did this improvement come to pass?

"Coach Shibest trusts the kickers to do their jobs. It's not just me. He handles Justin that way with kickoffs and Josh (Shene) with placements," Park stated. "We are relaxed and calm.

"After we do team work at the start of practice, we go inside the stadium on our own and do our real work and he trusts us to get it done. He knows we are working hard and it shows up in practice and in games."

Park had to overcome being benched last season to reach this level of confidence and productivity.

"It was very different for me. I've never had to watch a game from the sidelines, but I didn't have a very good camp last year and Justin won the job," he reflected. "I supported him, but I wanted the job back.

"This spring, with a new staff, I watched a lot of film, kept my head up and worked hard. I focused more and was more determined in the offseason. I wanted to help the team my senior year. All the kickers are a tight-knit group and we have supported each other - that has helped me as well."

There was also a new attitude about the kicking game coming from Shibest.

"If we have a bad kick, Coach Shibest tells us to forget and think about the next one and hitting it right. What's done is done - even good punts - and the next one is always more important," he explained. "We have that stamped in our heads now, so we are more relaxed.

"In the past, it was tough coming to the sidelines and having someone in your face. You need to forget the last kick and move on. Coach Shibest is with us, through thick or thin, and we want to produce for the team and for him."

Rob securing the punting job, he feels, has also helped Sparks with his kickoff duties. Now Justin can concentrate on one task and one kicking swing and has become a threat and a weapon in his own right with kickoffs.

"He's not having to do double duty in practice. Punting and kicking off are different leg swings. With me doing the punting, he can concentrate on nothing but the kickoff leg swing and he's been fantastic this year in that duty," Park noted.

Often overlooked by everyone but the team is Park's double duty as Shene's holder on placements.

"I couldn't ask for a better holder than Rob or a better snapper than Preston," says Shene. "I don't have to even give whether the ball is going to be there or not one second of thought. All I have to worry about is my leg swing. When you can reduce your thoughts down to that, kicking is a whole lot easier. Rob and Preston allow me to clear my mind and just kick."

With a better kicking game as just one of the improved facets of the team, Park sees the team bouncing around more now and having more fun.

"If we win Saturday, we will be bowl eligible. That's something none of us have ever felt before and it feels good. We know that each win helps our bowl status more and more and we have a different attitude out there this November than we've ever had," he closed. "We are all working hard to go to a bowl game and it's exciting to be a contributing part of that effort."

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