The last several years, Stanford has ranked at or near the bottom in the Pac-10 in punting average. The Card have depended the last two years on a walk-on punter, and before that were forced to take their top placekicker and make him punt in double-duty. The last time Stanford brought a scholarship punter to The Farm was Kevin Miller in 1994. Miller was the final offeree and signee in the final recruiting class of Bill Walsh, typifying the rare and often second-class status that kickers and punter receive in college football recruiting.
It took nine years and two coaches for the Cardinal to successfully haul in another golden boot, but Buddy Teevens decided when he arrived on campus last winter that there had to be a change. He was accustomed to the depth that he enjoyed under Steve Spurrier at Florida that gave both competition and safety at every position, including special teams. Thankfully he had a scholarship kicker on board in the form of redshirt freshman Michael Sgroi, but with just Eric Johnson as a walk-on punter and zero depth behind that 38.1 average, Stanford needed a whole lot more.
Teevens felt such a dire need for depth that he took an advertisement out in the Stanford Daily, the school newspaper, calling campus-wide for any and all students to come try out before a spring practice. His answer came in Jay Goff, an outstanding high school punter who came to Stanford as champion decathalete and competed for the track & field team. But Goff never found a consistent leg this fall, and at best offered a little in-practice competition and fire for Johnson. The longer term need is even more striking, though, as Johnson will play in his fourth and final year this coming fall, leaving Stanford high and dry with no punter currently on the roster who would step in after Johnson's graduation.
The conundrum for coaches like Teevens though is that special teams play in high school is often very difficult to evaluate. Different rules are found in different counties and states, and the quality of instruction for kicking and punting is either lax or completely absent. In the case of punting, also consider that the quality of athletes that rush a punter in high school competition is usually so mediocre that a college recruiter has difficulty in evaluating that punter's ability to get a strong kick off in a big hurry. Then add the layer of the 85-scholarship limitation, which has placed a premium on every scholarship offer handed out by every Division I program in the country. Fundamental to a team's success special teams may be, the kickers and punters are seldom offered scholarships and far more frequently asked to walk-on.
"Come to State U. and kick for us for a year, son," Jim Coach will say. "Show us you can shine on the big stage, and we can talk about putting you on scholarship here."
It should shock you then to learn that Stanford offered punter Jay Ottovegio from St. Thomas Aquinas High School in Ft. Lauderdale (FL) way back last spring, and has recruited him like crazy ever since. In a year when the Cardinal have desperate needs at DT, OL, RB, FB and all DB positions, one of their very first offers was handed out to a punter. The early and fervently continued interest paid off for Stanford, as they recently landed Ottovegio with a verbal commitment. And in this young man, they apparently have landed a great one.
Jay Ottovegio is currently rated by both TheInsiders and Rivals have him currently ranked as the #2 kicker in the nation. He was named a finalist to the Riddell All-American team, has been all-state in Florida as either a punter or kicker each of the last three years, and garnered one of the deeper offer lists in the country at a position that often pulls in just a single offer from a single school. Says Tim Conrad, special teams coach at Aquinas and the man who has taught Ottovegio the past three years, "Right now, he's definitely one of the top 10 punters in the country. And he hasn't even approached what he is capable of doing."
The senior specialist has delivered the pinnacle of consistency, while continuing to improve, over the past three years. His punting average has increased from 37 yards to 39 and finally 42 from his sophomore year though this senior campaign. He has never shanked a punt, and never had one blocked at any time in three years. His hangtime has very consistently stuck between 4.3 and 4.6 seconds, and Conrad speaks highly of his protege's mechanics:
"His turnover ratio is very good, though while a lot of guys can turn the ball over, few can get the ball off quickly at the high school level. Jay catches the ball cleanly, out in front of his body, and gets the ball off very quickly. He is a two-step punter, as opposed to three steps, which is rare in high school punters."
One factor that has led to Ottovegio's great hands and control of the snap has been his background in soccer, where he was a great all-around athlete and top prep goalkeeper for many years. "I haven't seen anybody as good as Jay catching the ball crisply and turning it over," adds Conrad.
The areas of improvement in his punting game will need to come in flexibility and directional punting, according to both coach and student. The pair only started working on focused flexibility training in the past year, which is a critical element to the motion of a punter. As for directional punting, Aquinas had a pair of great gunners on special teams, which made it strategically advisable to just boot the ball high down the middle of the field. The 'pooch punt' or 'coffin corner' has not been a significant part of Ottovegio's arsenal, and is an area where he has much to learn. That all being said, he is adept at pinning opponents down near the goalline with his high controlled kicks.
But Jay Ottovegio is more than just a punter. Though that has been the art at which he has longest trained, he has placekicked the past two years and is still early in his learning curve. He incredibly earned back-to-back all-state honors in this role the past two years, and just this week was the kicker in the Broward-Dade All-Star game for the top South Florida high school talents.
He put 70 of his 79 kickoffs into or out of the endzone this year, and hit 7/10 and 9/15 field goals in his junior and senior years, respectively. His long make came from 48 yards his junior season. Coach Conrad again provides some more insight into this area:
"Placekicking is the one area where Jay really has a lot of work to do. He used a tee in high school, and has to work on grass kicking. We didn't do anything on grass with him until it came time to film his recruiting video. He needs more explosion off the ball, and because he has so much leg strength, he doesn't use much speed or leg whip yet. We are working on getting his plant foot further ahead of the ball. On kickoffs, Jay has an immediate chance to step in and pl