Punting Away Bad Karma

After his one-yard punt in the season opener, senior Ken DeBauche struggles continued until the bright lights of Camp Randall put the captain back on track.

MADISON – Anyone will tell you that Ken DeBauche is his own toughest critic.

Two years ago, DeBauche broke former Badger punter Kevin Stemke's school record for 44.8-yard punting average, earning a second-team All-American honors in the process. Last season, DeBauche felt he underachieved tremendously, although his averaged only dropped by three yards per punt.

If DeBauche felt he struggled last season, one could only imagine what has been going through his head in 2007.

In his very first game, DeBauche suffered one of the more embarrassing moments a punter can have – recovering his own punt. Trying to pooch kick the ball deep into Washington State territory, DeBauche got too much leg under the ball, popping the ball straight up. Making matters worse, all the over spin caused the ball to bounce straight back to DeBauche like the ball was being pulled on a string. The icing on the cake for DeBauche was that he tried to bat the ball forward, incurring a 15-yard penalty.

"It was a bad punt and I compounded by hitting the ball forward, which I didn't know at the time was a penalty," DeBauche said. "It was bad all around."

The next two games were no better for the senior punter, incurring punting averages of 37.8 in Las Vegas and 35.3 yards against The Citadel. DeBauche's 34-yard average through Wisconsin's first three games is the lowest of his four-year career.

"Watching him in fall camp, he was punting the best he ever has," backup punter and close friend Paul Standring said. "After the first game, he didn't get another chance to punt in the game after that shank and it carried with him to the next game. Mentally it hurt him a little bit because he's booming them in practice and then not in the game. We talk after every punt and work at it every week."

Things were so heated on DeBauche that some fans outside of the program called for Standring to punt a game, giving DeBauche time to clear his head. While the answer may seem to have some logic behind it, DeBauche is too big of an assist to Bielema's special teams to not be on the field.

"He's been punting really well but one little goes wrong and the whole thing gets messed up," kicker Taylor Mehlhaff said. "[Punting] isn't as easy as it looks. We all knew Kenny was going to get back on track because he's so consistent. He's so valuable to us back there."

Elected as one of Wisconsin's five captains for 2007, DeBauche earned that title for his commitment, personality and work ethic. Moreover, he was someone that has peers wanted running the special team unit.

"It's pretty awesome that the team sees Kenny as a leader on this team," Standring said. "Everyone respects him for the way he handles himself on and off the field."

When DeBauche heard about the captain role being bestowed upon him, he was incredibly honored to be one of the five players to represent his teammates.

"It was great because it was my teammates that voted on it," DeBauche said. "To have the respect of your teammates, there's really not much more you can ask for. Those are the people I am with everyday, my best friends on the team and it's a great honor to be recognized as their captain."

After three weeks of struggles, DeBauche came alive in the conference opener. Using Wisconsin's philosophy of ‘1-0' and ‘one game at a time,' DeBauche said he focused intently on each punt, something he hadn't been doing previously. The end results were eight solid punts, netting DeBauche a 47.6-yard average, including landing two important kicks inside the 20-yard line in Wisconsin's 17-13 victory.

"He's his own worst critic, so he's been feeling it the last three games," head coach Bret Bielema said. "He came out huge [against Iowa]. He really changed the game and put us in position to have success."

After his performance against Iowa, DeBauche earned his third Big Ten Special Teams of the Week honor; an award Mehlhaff said was ‘just deserved.'

With DeBauche seemingly back on track and the Big Ten season getting into full swing, one-yard punts are a thing of the past for the senior punter, although he still uses it for a laugh.

"All that punt did was hurt my average," DeBauche said.

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