Being a college punter is something Baker Swedenburg has been working toward since he was a lowly freshman at Heritage Academy.
The Mississippi State junior got some help from one of the all times great in high school. Swedenburg attended Ray Guy camps when he was younger.
"I went to his camps in high school, so we've always had that good bond," Swedenburg said. "He definitely helped me to get ready for college."
Guy played his college ball at Southern Miss before being drafted in the first round by the Oakland Radiers.
The bond between Swedenburg and Guy is something Swedenburg is proud to have. He is more than just pro bowl kicker.
"He's really laid back," Swedenburg said. "If you imagined a tall skinny country boy, that's really all he is. We will be talking about punting and then we will be talking about what we had for breakfast earlier that day. He's just an awesome guy."
Swedenburg has never seen Guy kick in person, but he has seen clips of Guy in his heyday.
"He says his back is too messed up," Swedenburg said was Guy's reason for not punting now. "I looked him up on YouTube."
Swedenburg got a lot of instruction from Guy. He learned quick that there is one key to punting the ball â€“ the drop.
"In punting, drop is probably 90 percent of it all," Swedenburg said. "Obviously, you have to catch it and kick it, but that bad punt I had against Kentucky, it was just the drop. Everything else was perfect. It was just a bad drop. He emphasized that."
For punters, there is not much to practice. For Swedenburg, he found a way to practice away from the practice field and inside his house.
"I remember in high school I would walk around the house and just make sure my drop was right," Swedenburg said. "(I would try to) bounce it up like for an hour. It would annoy my parents really bad. They're thrilled because they raised me a State fan. They get in their own little mode before the game."
Swedenburg has had good junior campaign. He has had 52 punts for an average of 40.8 yards. He has kicked a long of 54. He has kicked 18 punts inside the 20.
With the great numbers, he wasn't a semifinalists for the Ray Guy Award. The award is given to the nation's top punter and named after Swedenburg's mentor.
"Obviously, I'm a little disappointed," Swedenburg said. "It's definitely not a main thing I worry about. They call it the Ray Guy Award, but it seems like they are more concerned with who averages the most. Ray Guy averaged like 42 yards his whole career."
MSU head coach Dan Mullen isn't too concerned with Swedenburg not being up for awards. He knows Swedenburg gets the job done.
"I don't know that because they want the guys to have the huge legs," Mullen said. "I think he does a great job. Our guys do a great job of knowing what he does. He's very accurate and has very great consistency. I think when you do that, it shows in the coverage units. Our coverage units are usually right where they need to be because the ball is right where they need to be. I guess good and bad, he doesn't out kick his coverage, but he doesn't under kick his coverage much either. He just kind of kicks to his coverage."
Not just anybody can grab a pigskin and boot it 50 yards. There is much that goes into putting the ball in the air.
"A lot of people think you just kind of catch it, kick it and hope for the best," Swedenburg said. "You can break it down. I wave my arms. That's just for me to relax and stay loose, then I take a little jab step, then two steps. I have to make the drop is right and my leg swings good. It's down to a science."
Opponents have only returned 12 of Swedenburg's 52 punts. They have only picked up 8 yards returning punts.
Swedenburg gives most of that credit to his coverage team.
"You've got Darius Slay and Jamerson Love, (who are) the two fastest guys on the team," Swedenburg said. "As long as I put it in the right spot, I don't even have to hit it good. They will be down there in no time. They make me look very good."
Swedenburg and the Bulldogs (8-4) face a tough test in Venric Mark and the No. 21 (Associated Press) Northwestern Wildcats (9-3). The Bulldogs and Wildcats face off in the TaxSlayer.com Gator Bowl Tuesday. It is scheduled for 11 a.m. and can be seen on ESPN2.
The junior running back Mark, has returned 14 punts for 282 yards. He has also scored twice on punt returns.
"It should be an interesting bowl game," Swedenburg said. "I think Northwestern is up there. We have faced some good punt returners in the past like Joe Adams (of Arkansas) last year. We didn't really change anything and that was one of my better games."
Because of the good coverage, Swedenburg has never really had to tackle anybody in his career. Mark may present a problem and Swedenburg doesn't really focus on tackling.
"Last year, I attempted to get in the way of Brandon Boykin at Georgia," Swedenburg said. "I was just like 'please just don't kill me.' We don't practice too much tackling."View more articles in: