ColtPower Interview: Dave Rayner

Dave Rayner is the Colts' rookie kickoff specialist who just celebrated his 23rd birthday on October 26th. ColtPower caught up with him last week to see how he's doing settling in as a pro kicker with the Indianapolis Colts.

ColtPower: Tell us a little bit about your family and your background.

Dave Rayner: I'm from Oxford, Michigan. I have a brother who is 29 and a sister who is 26. My parents have been married for 34 years. My family is very supportive, they come to a lot of games. 

CP: You're Michigan State's all-time leader in scoring (334 career points), field goals (62 made) and extra points. You were rated as the #2 kicker on many draft listings. But not many kickers get drafted. Were you surprised that you were picked?

DR: Actually, I was told going in that based on the last couple of years more than one kicker was taken. So I had really high hopes. I was hearing maybe the fourth round. Mike Nugent was obviously the top guy coming out statistics-wise, so I knew he was going to go. So it was the kind of thing where I knew that once he went, I should be the next guy, or at least that's what I was told. So I was waiting, and I heard from a bunch of other teams, but I hadn't heard from Indianapolis. And then I got a call in the sixth-round and here I am.

CP: What other teams were showing interest in you prior to the draft?

DR: I had talked to Tennessee, Minnesota, San Francisco and Atlanta. There were a couple of other teams. I was real talkative with the Bears. But then nobody really called me on draft day and the Colts did.

CP: Did you have previous contact with the Colts?

DR: I had a workout for them right before the Combine. Coach Purnell, the special teams coach worked me out. But then I hadn't heard anything from them until the draft. It was a pleasant surprise.

CP: The Colts have tried for a number of years to find the right talent for kickoffs. Last year David Kimball didn't make the team after being drafted. Was that a big concern to you when you looked at their history with kickoff specialists?

DR: I looked at it and I just think I'm a lot different from those guys -- mentally, and maybe even a better attitude about it. I'd love to kick field goals here, but obviously Mike's the number one guy. Hopefully I'll get a chance sometime to get in there and kick field goals. But right now I know kicking off is my spot. As a rookie, I was just excited to get on the field at all. I figured if I work on those and did that pretty well, I'd be okay.

CP: I think one of the really interesting stories about you is that you are a self-taught kicker who has analyzed his own film, charted his own kicks. Has that changed much now that you're at the pro level?

DR: Your right. I was never really taught how to kick a football. I played soccer my whole life. So I took what I knew from soccer and turned it into kicking a football. Throughout the years I've had people who have said certain things that I've picked up, and techniques that I've taken from other kickers. But I've pretty much looked at myself on film, diagnosed myself -- and it seems to have worked so far.  

CP: Tell us a little bit about how your relationship with Mike Vanderjagt has evolved. Have you relied on him for any tips?

DR: We have really different styles when we kick, different ways that we hit the ball. The thing I've learned from him the most -- that I hoped I've learned -- is the way he deals with pressure. He gets excited before big kicks, he loves that anticipation and that pressure. And I think that something, to be successful in the NFL, you have to have. And just how cool and calm he is on the field, and the relationships he has and friends he's made on the team. He's been great since I've been here. 

CP: Many kickers with solid college careers don't make it in the pros. What's the biggest difference between kicking in the pros versus college?

DR: I would say the ball is the biggest change. Coming from college where each team gets to use their own ball and you can kind of play with it before the game, and they're used the whole game so they're worn in. Now you get a nasty football to kickoff with and to kick field goals with. As I play more games I'm getting more used to the ball, kicking it farther and figuring out different things I can do with it.  But that's definitely the biggest challenge going from college to the pros -- the ball. 

CP: What's a typical day at practice like for Dave Rayner?

DR: Wednesdays are a kick day for us. I'm there at 8:30 in the morning for meetings, and then we're on the field at 2. We do a kickoff period...and I work with Coach Purnell on what we're going to do that week, kicking right, kicking left or wherever he wants me to put the ball.  Then I'll do a period with the team, three or four kickoffs, and then I'll usually shag field goals for Mike and then do some more kickoffs. Thursday is more of an individual day where we kick on our own. With the scout team, I'm a free safety. So when they're doing a review period, I'm there for a while. I also run down the field on kickoff returns on the scout team. Then we go in and lift. Friday is kind of like Wednesday, where we do kickoffs and then kick on our own. Saturday's usually a walk-through and then there's game day. It's a great schedule.

CP: Against the Texans you saved a touchdown on one return and helped shut down another one. What was different about what the Texans were doing that put you in the position where you had to take a more active role in stopping the runner?

DR: I kicked the ball to the left and they bounced the ball outside. After they did it once, I think we kind of got nervous and over-pursued a bit. And that opened up some big holes in our coverage teams. You know, I'm no Ray Lewis, but I'm a pretty big kid, and I'll pop in there and get a bump on a guy, try to get in his way and slow him down as much as I can. Luckily, it worked for us a couple of times, and one time it didn't. But just because you're a kicker doesn't mean you're not a football player or an athlete. You still have to be out there and do your job. And if I have to make a tackle, that's part of doing my job. Hopefully I won't have to do that the rest of the year, but if I have to, I'll step in there and do it.

CP: What's the most challenging kick that you're asked to do? A specific placement? An onsides kick?

DR: From what we've done so far this year...I'd say for me kicking right is the hardest. I'm right-footed and the ball has a natural draw left just by the way I swing. So when kicking right you have to kick across your body and take a little bit of your hips out of it. But I've worked a lot on that in practice lately. 

CP: The Colts have plenty of Big Ten Conference players. Do you guys have some fun with those rivalries during the season?

DR: You know, every Saturday when we come to practice it's "who's playing who". There's so many guys and it's a really fun atmosphere because everybody wants their team to win -- and everybody thinks their team is going to win. It's just a blast to see all the different guys from all the different teams. We're kind of the dominant conference on the team, so it's great.

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