Alabama head coach Nick Saban knew he needed to create an extra offensive possession for his team if he wanted to capture his fourth national championship in the last seven seasons. Instead of relying on his talented defense, which ranked third in the country in total defense and generated 19 interceptions on the year, to try and create that opportunity, Saban trusted his special teams to convert an onside kick and change momentum.
As history would have it, Alabama changed the entire complexion of the national championship game this past January against Clemson, needing only two plays to break a tie at 24 and take the lead for good.
It was fitting conclusion to the college football season, as the year’s most memorable games all seemed to come down to a special teams play: Michigan State beating Michigan on a botched punt, Georgia Tech returning a blocked field goal 78 yards against Florida State and Miami’s eight-lateral kick return to stun Duke.
Considering how big of a role special teams plays in impacting a game, and the fact that Wisconsin’s four-year starting punter Drew Meyer was graduating, the Badgers made it a priority to utilize multiple specialists camps over the summer to find a starting punter.
With special teams assistant coach Chris Haering and special teams quality control assistant, and former UW kicker, Taylor Mehlhaff running the camps, the Badgers had a chance to look at some of the top punters from around the country. After the process was completed, it was clear to the staff that Anthony Lotti was the most talented one of the bunch.
“He’s a polished young man,” said Haering. “His dad has done a great job of coaching him up. One thing that stood out during the camp, we probably had over 100 punters and he was by far the most consistent, and he was very competitive when it was competition time, which we liked about him.”
Already holding offers from Air Force and Boston College at the time of his Wisconsin camp, Lotti’s appearance in Madison showed Haering and Mehlhaff that the punter’s interest in the program was real, especially after Mehlhaff and Lotti had been communicating back and forth via Twitter.
“We liked the fact that he came and made the effort, which told us that he was pretty interested in Wisconsin,” said Haering. “When you look at our system and his tools, they kind of matchup in the pro-punt system.”
Lotti will be given every chance to win the starting job considering redshirt sophomore P.J. Rosowski is one of only two punters currently on the roster and the only one with a collegiate punt (a 40-yard boot against Miami (OH) in September). Rosowoski also registered eight kickoffs in four games this past season for a 62.5-yard average.
Georgia, Georgia Tech, Vanderbilt and Virginia Tech all started recruiting Lotti once he committed to Wisconsin but those schools never could sway him.
“The in-state schools really had its effect on me, but then I realized I had already made all these connections with the coaches and players,” said Lotti. “I decided I had to do what’s best for me and that’s to stay with the University of Wisconsin.”
Lotti’s biggest strength is his leg power and accuracy. He averaged 45.4 yards on 49 punts, including 19 placed inside the 20-yard line and 15 of 50-plus yards. Lotti consistently gets enough hang time, which allows his coverage team to get down the field to prevent any long returns. Lotti’s strong senior year earned him first-team All-American honors by Kohl’s as a senior and first-team all-state selections his final two seasons by the Atlanta Journal Constitution and Georgia Sportswriters Association.
With Rafael Gaglianone still having two more seasons as the starting kicker, the Badgers only worry was finding a punter who could be a rock of consistency for four years. Wisconsin was so confident in Lotti being that guy that he was the only punter they offered.
Signing Day Grade: A