The fifth-year senior punted a season-high 10 times last Saturday against Ohio State, and that wasn't even the hard part. He also made a touchdown-saving tackle after Ray Small broke into the open field on a punt return late in the third quarter, and that's the play Boone was still feeling after the game.
Having 10 attempts doesn't feel any different than having three, he said. But the open-field tackle, that did shake me up physically. It's not something I'm used to doing.
The Nittany Lions have had their share of special teams difficulties this year, including two blocked punts and a 41-yard return by Small in the first quarter of the Ohio State game that set up the Buckeyes' first touchdown. But Boone, a third-year starter, remains one of the Big Ten's top punters. He is ranked second behind Michigan's Zoltan Mesko with an average of 44.1 yards on 39 attempts, and 14 of his punts have been downed inside the opponent's 20-yard line.
There's been a lot of talk lately about the Nittany Lions' approach to special teams. Although Joe Paterno has been saying for as long as he's been coach that the kicking game will decide a game or two each year, he does not have a special teams coach and doesn't appear to want one, preferring instead to assign specific duties to various coaches on his staff. It's not the coaching that's creating problems, he said at his Tuesday news conference. It's a question of whether I'm giving them enough time and [have] emphasized it enough.
Boone, who works with defensive line coach Larry Johnson on the punt coverage team, doesn't see the need for a dedicated special teams coach, either. We're doing the same things we've done in the past, he said. It's just a matter of teams coming up with their best effort against us. We've had maybe one or two letdowns. But I think Coach Johnson and the rest of the coaches do a wonderful job getting us ready.
Boone came to Penn State from Mechanicsburg, Pa., in 2005 after Johnson told him he would have a chance to compete for a starting job after a couple of seasons. An invited walk-on, he was happy just to be a part of the program. He redshirted, then backed up All-Big Ten punter Jeremy Kapinos for a season before going on to lead the conference in punting his sophomore and junior seasons.
Kapinos is now punting for the Green Bay Packers, and he talks to Boone about once a week. Boone, who graduated in May with a degree in elementary and kindergarten education, wouldn't mind joining his friend in the NFL, but he's got other goals as well. I'm going to work as hard as I can, and if that's my calling, I'll go with it, he said. If not, I look forward to educating youth.
For now, his focus is on Indiana, which has returned only nine punts all season. Boone said he expects to have about 10 or 12 friends and family members in the stands to cheer him on as he takes the field for the final time.
It's going to be special, he said. Since day one, walking in and walking through that tunnel it's been a dream come true. To try to put words to the experiences that have occurred here, it's tough. But I'm looking forward to it, and my family is looking forward to it. It's something I'm ready to go with.