I wanna be like Mike

When you are tearing it up with your leg, there is an audience that requests your attendance. Such is life for Mike Scifres, second year punter for the San Diego Chargers.

When you are at or near the top in every statistical punting category and have been as consistent as Mike Scifres, there is even mention of the Pro Bowl.

But before that, let's review the credentials.

He may be seventh in the league in gross punting average but he is second in the league in net average – length of punt minus the return – the stat that really matters with a 39.5 average. Only Mitch Berger of New Orleans is better at 40.9.

Twenty seven of his 55 punts have been placed inside the twenty yard line. That ties him with Nick Harris of Detroit and only Tom Tupa's 29 best that mark. But Harris has punted 78 times and Wasington's Tupa has booted the rock 90 times. That means Scifres has done his frat in 23 and 35 less punts, respectively.

His 5.8 yards per return are good for fourth in the NFL with Berger (5.7), Matt Turk (4.2) of Miami and Chris Mohr (3.3) with Atlanta better in that department.

Nineteen of his punts have been returned, tying him with Hunter Smith of Indianapolis for second in the NFL. Steve Cheek (15) of Kansas City is the only one who has had less punts returned but Cheeks has only punted the ball 33 times and Smith just 38 times.

That places Scifres as the top punter in the AFC based on stats and in the top five of every major punting category. Not bad for a second year punter out of Western Illinois.

Consistency has been the name of the game since he began the year. He has eleven straight games with a punt inside the twenty. Scifres credits former mentor Darren Bennett for his success this year.

"When I was in college I just got ahead of myself and tried to do too much," he said. "I always tried to kick as far as I could. When I got here I kind of got my red-shirt year last year behind Darren. He always told me, ‘you don't have to swing as hard as you can.'

"I knew coming into the season that being consistent was going to be a main part of it. I worked real hard on it during the offseason."

It is more remarkable when you realize that Scifres was relegated to kickoffs last year.

And that is only when he was active. He saw action in six games and not once did he get the hike from David Binn and loft a pooch or boom a punt sixty yards.

Now he is doing both with regularity while still maintaining a high net punting average.

"The ones that don't get returned," Scifres said of his favorite kind of return before explaining further. "The ones that pin the team as far back as we can. The play that Matt Wilhelm made (Sunday) at the one-yard line where he kept that in the field of play. That is one of the best plays I have seen this season. Ninety-eight yards is a long way to go against our defense."

It wasn't always so easy for the now even-tempered punter. Back in college he remembers a time when he was throwing his helmet around and had to be calmed down before his next kick. Once, he just missed lofting the helmet into the crowd. The equipment manager would tell him they were taking his helmet away until he was called upon to punt again..

He also remembers a time when he actually tackles someone, not the leg wrap he had a few weeks ago.

"We were playing Youngstown State," Scifres began. "I kicked it and it wasn't a great kick. It was a decent kick and this was the best returner in the conference and he was top five in the nation so if you gave him a crease he was gone.

"I wasn't going to catch him if he got away from me. I saw a hole open up and I was like, ‘that is where he is going!'

"As soon as he cut back into the hole it was "BOOM!' I hit him and was like, ‘what the heck did I do?' I looked down and he was like, ‘who just hit me?'

"I woke up (the next day) and my arm is all hanging and numb. They said he got made fun of so bad that whole next week. My little brother plays at SW Missouri and I hit a guy there and my little brother called me on Monday and he said, ‘that kid got made fun of during the whole special teams meeting.'"

While he hasn't had a chance to show his tackling ability, and isn't eager to given the extra thirty pounds found on special teams' members in the NFL, he is willing to sacrifice his body in order to take the returner down. Of course they rarely get a chance to return his punts and that is just fine with Mike.

"They put me out there to give up the least amount of returns that I can."

In the rare circumstances when they do get a return, Scifres is the first one down to congratulate the tackler.

Lightning Quicks:

Binn, Nate Kaeding, and Scifres will host the annual TEDDY BEAR DRIVE with local law enforcement on Tuesday. Players will lead a motorcade of over 35 law enforcement vehicles from the Chula Vista Police Department to Children's Hospital of San Diego. They will arrive with thousands of teddy bears, which they will deliver to patients at the hospital.

Denis Savage contributed to this report

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