Coach Patterson on Mike Scifres

Western Illinois head coach Don Patterson was more than happy to relate some stories on his old players, specifically San Diego Chargers fifth round draft pick Mike Scifres. With the recent addition of ex-Charger Ronnie Harmon to his staff, Patterson maintains a strong relationship with players from his past. Patterson spent 20 years at Iowa and it is where he came to know Harmon and Tim Dwight, among others.

Western Illinois University graduate Mike Scifres was the first punter to be selected in the 2003 NFL Draft, being picked in the fifth round (No. 149 overall) by the San Diego Chargers.

Has anyone ever had a stronger leg than Mike Scifres in your experience?

"He is the strongest leg I have seen in a long time. I have coached college football for 25 years and we had a guy a couple of years ago, I coached at the University of Iowa for 20 years, we had a guy that is well known in NFL circles named Reggie Roby. And Reggie was a great punter in college and Reggie still owns the NCAA record for single season punting average. Mike has the strongest leg of anyone I have seen since Reggie. It's hard to argue who is stronger than who. They were both exceptional. There was no doubt in our mind he was good enough to make an NFL team and we still feel that way certainly."

Scifres is the most prolific punter in school history, holding the Leathernecks' career record with a 43.45 average, gaining 8,908 yards on 205 attempts, breaking the old mark of a 40.4-yard average, first set by Mike Krause (1986-89) and matched by Ross Schulte (1992-94).

Was he scouted heavily?

"Yes he was, we have a good tradition of football here. We have quite a few guys that play in the NFL. Every last team came through and the guy that was at the top of the list this year – Mike was our best prospect, the only guy drafted off our senior class. We only had eleven seniors but Mike was the guy we had projected all along to be a draft choice. Sure enough he was and I do understand the Mini Camp workouts have gone well. I think the Chargers feel like they have made a good choice."

Patterson has kept the Western Illinois tradition of sending players to the National Football League intact when two Leathernecks were not only drafted, but were the first two I-AA players taken in the 2000 draft. Will Peterson became Western's third-highest draft pick when he was selected by the New York Giants in the third round, and Edgerton Hartwell was taken in the fourth round by the Baltimore Ravens. Thirty-three Leathernecks have been selected in the NFL Draft, and 14 former players are currently on NFL rosters.

Were you surprised he was picked in the fifth round?

"No not really. We thought based on projections that we knew of we thought he would go in the 4th or 5th round. He went around when he was supposed to go. I know that the Chiefs were the very next team to pick and I got it from a good source that they were going to take him. They were surprised and disappointed when the Chargers did."

Scifres is the eighth-highest Western Illinois draft pick in school history, ranking behind former Charger Rodney Harrison who was selected 145th in 1994.

You play in an outdoor stadium; do his kicks suffer in the harsher weather?

"The weather in September, October is ideal for football. November can be a little uncomfortable and the playoffs run right up into December and you know that December can be uncomfortable. There is no way anyone will punt quite as well in the cold weather. You can't impact on the ball the same way you can on a warm day, but he punted throughout. He had good games even in the late season when it got cold and he certainly kicked off very well all the way through."

Will he be able to get the extra five yard?

"Yes I think so. There were all kinds of kicks that went five yards deep so I think a lot of his kickoffs will be to the goal line or even into the end zone. Of course there are very few NFL kickers who can kick it in from the 30."

The four-year starter also excelled as a kickoff specialist in addition to serving as the team's holder for both placements and field goals In 2002, he kicked off 91 times, with only 47 of those kicks returned for 822 yards (17.5 avg.) while maintaining a 4.08-second average hang time.

Does he out kick coverage?

"I know when Roby went to the Dolphins one of the first things that Coach Shula told him was: don't kick it so far, just kick it high. Mike has very, very good hang time and so did Roby. Roby had very good hang time but if anything I think Mike's hang time may be a little better than Reggie. That is one issue in the NFL. You cannot afford to out kick your coverage."

How is his directional punting?

"I think that is the one area where he still has the most room for improvement. In terms of leg strength and hang time I give him nothing but "A pluses". I think directional punting Mike would probably tell you he would deserve something less than an "A+" there. He has got room for improvement in that area and I know he is going to be working hard on it with the Chargers. He certainly worked diligently on that angle, that aspect of punting with us over the past year too."

Can he consistently drop kicks inside the 20?

"Well there are two ways. Some people like to kick for the coffin corner and some people just like to hit the ball high and short and then try to down it out in the middle of the field. Mike is comfortable with either one. It just depends on whatever the Chargers want and of course that is what he is going to give them. I would probably assume they will look at it in both ways and decide which way is better to go."

Scifres averaged over 50 yards punting in nine games during his career, including five times during his final campaign. Only 116 of his 209 career kickoffs were returned, while sixty-one of his punts were downed inside the 20-yard line and 54 of those attempts were for 50 yards or longer.

Has he had trouble keeping kickoffs inbounds?

"No not really. On rare occasions he has missed one and hit it out of bounds but that is very rare.

"He just has very good consistency as a kicker and a punter and the rest of the untold story and you probably know this or maybe not, he is also been known to make some long field goals.

"We didn't take many as we had a very good football team during most of Mike's four years of competition so we didn't have a lot of field goal attempts. They weren't a lot of long range kicks to be had. We also do have an All American place kicker who kicked one as far out as 53 this year.

"Just to give you an example, in the 2000 season we clinched our conference title. Now this one was in an indoor facility. There was a 56 yard kick to win on the last play of the game and it broke the tie actually and I know it sounds silly but it never crossed my mind that he might miss. That was actually his first college field goal attempt. After the game the writers said what would make you think your punter could kick a field goal from that distance. I said, "Well he was hitting them from 60 in pre-game and I thought that was a pretty good sign.'"

Is he one of those kickers who is afraid to get in there and tackle?

"No he is not. Two of the biggest hits this season were Mike Scifres versus a kick returner and Mike Scifres versus a punt returner. I think in both cases he was upset. He thought he could hit the ball better than he did and he just decked a Youngstown kickoff return guy and Mike did not kick the ball out (of the end zone) this particular time and the guy was bringing it back and he popped through a seam and he was down the field with a pretty good head of steam and he got dropped right in his tracks by Mike.

"Then on a punt the same thing in a Northern Iowa game he had certainly a good punt but the punt returner, of course you have to give two yards, and he caught the ball and made a guy or two miss and the next thing he know he is running down the sideline and Mike just decks him on the sideline and he got up as I recall but that was all he could do to get up and find his bench. It was a very hard hit on him."

Scifres made 13 tackles in his special teams career at Western Illinois. With training camp just two weeks away, Scifres is looking to unseat Darren Bennett as the punter. It appears he has the kickoff role wrapped up and he has taken some snaps as the holder for field goals.

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