Punting Battle: Tim Masthay

The frontrunner in the punting battle was a superb athlete at Murray High School in Murray, Ky. With a strong performance at Kansas City on Thursday, he'll likely earn the right to be the punter on Sept. 12 at Philadelphia.

Tim Masthay and Chris Bryan will engage in one final punting battle on Thursday night at Kansas City.

To say fate has taken them to this moment is probably too strong of terminology but neither followed a preordained path to this winner-takes-all moment.

By now, you know Bryan's story. A veteran of Australian Rules Football, Bryan worked for about a year with fellow Aussie Nathan Chapman, who lost his bid to be the Packers' punter in 2004. Bryan uprooted his family and moved across the world to chase this new dream.

Masthay's story isn't nearly as dramatic but it is pretty interesting. At Murray High School in Murray, Ky., Masthay was a two-time all-state selection in soccer, an 18 points-per-game scorer in basketball and an all-region choice as a pitcher and outfielder in baseball.

Then, a friend got in his ear and thought the three-sport star should really consider being a four-sport star.

"I played soccer and the head football coach at the high school and a close friend of mine talked me into doing it, basically," Masthay said. "Soccer was always my No. 1 sport and what I felt I was best at and the thing I liked the most. They just wanted me to play and told me I'd be good and yada, yada. I did it my junior year, liked it, came back, did it my senior year, then went onto play at (Kentucky)."

As a senior, Masthay was a first-team all-state selection in football and soccer — incredible, since both sports are played in the fall. And Masthay was more than just someone who could kick a ball. No, while he certainly excelled as a kicker and punter, he also was among the state leaders with 49 receptions for 1,121 yards and 15 touchdowns. He also scored two touchdowns as a kickoff returner and another on defense.

Masthay played collegiately at Kentucky under coach Rich Brooks and special teams coach Steve Ortmayer — two men with professional resumes — but never seriously considered the NFL until late in his career.

"I started realizing it sort of midway my senior season in college," Masthay said. "The coaches had always told me that I had the potential, but I didn't know whether or not that was true and, secondly, hadn't had a season yet where I felt like I had really grabbed scouts' attention. But by midway through my senior season, I had really been hitting the ball well and getting a lot of attention from scouts at practice."

Masthay averaged 45.2 yards per punt as a senior. While he wasn't drafted, he was signed by the Indianapolis Colts. The Colts, however, had drafted Pat McAfee in the seventh round in 2009 and quickly decided he was their man.

Masthay spent all of last season out of football, though he did have a workout with the Packers shortly after his release in Indy. About a week after last season ended, the Packers signed Masthay, then added Bryan a couple months later. They've been battling ever since, with coach Mike McCarthy and special teams coordinator Shawn Slocum saying the winner will be a dramatic upgrade over the last couple seasons and the loser likely to sign with another team.

Masthay, who has dramatically improved his get-off time during training camp, has the better numbers in the preseason. And the better punts, too. In the Cleveland game, his pooch punt pinned the Browns at the 6-yard line. Last week against Indianapolis, his booming 53-yard punt resulted in a muff that was recovered by Korey Hall for a touchdown. He followed that up on Monday with a strong performance at practice.

"There's a lot on the line, but I guess (he's not psyched out) because I just look at each day and try to just focus on what I can control, focus on what I can do, leave it up to the decision makers," he said.

A good performance at Kansas City likely will cement that decision in his favor. While his one-on-one battles with Bryan have been highly scrutinized, Masthay says he's been successful in tuning out everything and fighting off the nervousness that could come from knowing every punt could be his last.

"For me, it's usually I'm focused enough that it quiets the nerves a little bit," he said. "I always get a little bit of nerves, a little bit of excitement, but usually I try to be really focused on each punt. That's how I prepare."

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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at packwriter2002@yahoo.com, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/packerreport and Facebook under Bill Huber.

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