Punter to Punisher

He may not win the Heisman Trophy, but fifth-year senior Paul Standring has gone from back-up punter to kickoff enforcer, which is much to his friend's delight.

MADISON – It's true what they about special team members; they are closer than any other unit on a football team. Spending long hours working on kicking, punting and specific conditioning tailored to their positions, more often than not, the kickers and punters either become bitter enemies or best friends.

In the case of seniors Ken DeBauche, Taylor Mehlhaff and Paul Standring, the status of their friendship is the latter.

While Badger fans recognize the names of DeBauche and Mehlhaff as key contributors to the Badgers, Standring has been living in the shadows as Wisconsin's backup punter for years. Built like a linebacker [6-1, 212 pounds] and dedicated to the program, DeBauche and Mehlhaff did what any best friend does for the other – they went to bat for him.

Constantly encouraging Coach Bielema to put Paul on the kickoff unit, even going so far as joking that Mehlhaff was punting so well that he deserved the backup punting job, Bielema could not turn down a so-called ‘joking mutiny' from his starting kicker and punter.

"[Kenny and I] have been trying to get Paul on special teams forever and talking to Bielema about it in the years past," Mehlhaff said. "It's great that Coach B is giving him a shot and he's taking advantage of it. [Paul] is really opening people's eyes and impressing people with his play."

Playing on the Badgers kickoff unit the last four games, Standring has made four tackles on 24 kickoffs – a ratio of one tackle once every six kickoffs. His first tackle on the unit was against the Citadel, where he combined with another good friend [Ben Strickland] to register the take down. According to Standring, trading in his punting career for a chance to hit people has been a fun experience.

"It really doesn't faze me if I don't punt anymore," Standring said. "Punters don't get a chance to hit people very often. Even when I was a backup punter, I still felt I was contributing to the team in practice and push Kenny to get better. It feels good that I'm contributing on game days and helping the team win."

When Bielema arrived into the program in 2004 and ran into Standring, he thought the redshirt was one of his new linebackers and not the backup punter. Bielema decided to give Standring a chance on special teams in 2006, but after Paul hurt his hamstring and missed two months of the season, Bielema was a little gun-shy about putting his backup punter back in harms way.

"This year, [Paul] hit me up all along and really looked good during fall camp," Bielema said. "We gave him an opportunity, and he probably was the first man down the field on three of the kicks [against The Citadel] and made two huge plays that caused huge momentum swings for us."

After playing the position for only a few weeks, Standring is reading the opponents like a savvy veteran. While some players just tend to fly down on the field and hope to inflict punishment, Standring does what any good special team player is suppose to do – takes what the opponent gives him.

"The big key is looking at the [opponent's] second row guys to see if the punt is going to be right, left or middle and whether I can beat the guy with speed or go across his face," Standring said. "From there, get my nose to the football and make the tackle."

Watching every kickoff more intently than ever, DeBauche couldn't be happier for his best friend. From battling for the starting punting job to helping him get a contributing role on the team, DeBauche never misses a kickoff where his buddy has the chance to make a big tackle and is always there, along with his Mehlhaff, to congratulate him coming off the field.

"Even though when he first came here and we were competing, he's one of my best friends in the world," DeBauche said. "To see him out there, I am one of his biggest fans watching him. Even though he's not one of the fastest guys on the team, he's one of the first ones down on kickoffs.

"You know he's going to give 110 percent on each play. If you don't know what to watch for on kickoffs, watch number 97 run down. It's a fun thing."

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