Last Chance

After redshirting as a freshman, joining the scout team a year later, and then backing up Pat McAfee and Scott Kozlowski in his sophomore and junior seasons, Gregg Pugnetti is locked in a battle for the WVU football team's starting punting job in his final fall camp as a Mountaineer.

The 2010 season will be Pugnetti's last chance to see action in a game -- a goal which remained unfulfilled during his first four years on campus.

But the fifth-year senior is getting a stern test from junior Corey Smith for the starting punting job. It's a tight race, but Pugnetti is doing his best to avoid thinking of anything other than his routine and his fundamentals.

"Every day, I just try to go out there and punt my best," said Pugnetti. "I don't think of it as a competition. I don't want to get caught up in that. I just want to concentrate on the ball and doing my best."

In a battle that could hinge on every punt in every practice, it could be tough to avoid the emotional highs and lows that come with each kick.

Pugnetti shanked a pair of kicks on Sunday afternoon, but redeemed himself with a more consistent performance Monday. His counterpart struggled Sunday with getting the proper loft on his punts, but also seemed to fare better a day later.

The former said he tries to avoid even looking at the action while Smith is taking his reps, as to avoid getting drawn into a feeling of needing to match his competition kick-for-kick.

"I try not to watch so I don't get caught up in what he's doing," Pugnetti said. "I just want to stay focused on what I'm doing and do my best at doing my own thing."

In past seasons, the Fairfax, Va., native said his focus in practices and throughout the summer had been on his mechanics, as he searched for answers as to just why his performance wasn't up to his expectations.

But he said all that practice only confirmed that the technical aspects of his drop and his swing were just fine. Instead, it is the mental process that is the focus of the punter's work this fall.

"I just kept practicing because I thought that was what the problem was, when it really was more the mental part," Pugnetti said. "I really needed to focus more, so that's what I'm trying to concentrate on now.

"Now, I know I have good mechanics, so it's just about mentally focusing on the ball and being confident."

If anything besides confidence is an issue for Pugnetti at this point, he says it is the adaptation to the rugby-style "roll" punting that the Mountaineers have used often in recent years.

Pugnetti said that even though he has been a part of the West Virginia program for four full seasons now, he is still "getting used to" that unorthodox move.

"Since I started playing back in high school [at W.T. Woodson High in Fairfax], it's been straight on, two steps, strictly," he said. "When I got here, I didn't even want to learn [the roll punt]. I just was like, ‘I'll go out and do it once in a while and see what happens.' Now, I need to learn it. I'm still adapting to it, but I'm getting pretty good at it.

"Everything is different -- the swing, the drop, everything. It's more of a kicker's swing. And I lack that."

To teach himself the finer points of the punt, Pugnetti said he has watched film of former teammate McAfee and basically gone out on the field by himself and done some trial-and-error experiments to see what works for him and what doesn't.

That is typical for kickers and punters, according to Pugnetti, because there is no "one size fits all" solution because of the uniqueness of every kicker's swing.

"Everybody thinks there's only one way to kick, and there's not," he said. "It's your own way, and I've taught myself."

But error is an inherent part of learning things on a trial-and-error basis. And in a pitched battle for the starting punting job, the margin for miscues is razor thin if Pugnetti hopes to beat out Smith and see the field this season.

Through it all, he keeps an optimistic outlook.

"I try to think every day is a good day," Pugnetti said. "The outcome might turn out well, and sometimes it might not. But even on the bad ones, I try to learn and grow from it. So I still try to stay positive. If you don't, you'll just fall apart."


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