(Photo: Scotty Bara/WCSN)
If all goes as planned, you won’t see the punter on the field often during a football game. When he does come on, however, he has the ability to swing the momentum unlike nearly anyone else in the game. For Matt Haack, Arizona State’s senior punter, the art of punting is a craft that he is working to perfect.
The senior is entering this season as the Sun Devils full-time punter for the third consecutive year and has recognized steady improvement in his game and maturity since his freshman year, when he only appeared in six games.
“Coming out here my freshman year, it was crazy,” he said. “Coming out of high school, I mainly played receiver. I went from playing almost the whole game to coming here and playing maybe one to at the most eight to ten snaps a game, so it was a huge adjustment.”
Haack’s list of accolades since high school is extensive, and they aren’t just from punting. His career as a wide receiver in high school led to him earning first-team All-State honors at the position in his home state of Iowa.
He hasn’t played any wide receiver at ASU, but he has shown his versatility by playing quarterback for one play last season, even completing a 27-yard pass. He has opened up the option for head coach Todd Graham to call possible trick plays on special teams because of his athleticism.
The versatility that Haack possesses as a punter has pleased Graham, who had nothing but good things to say about him during fall camp.
“Every year he is stronger,” Graham said. “I think he was one of the guys that was part of the dirty dozen for training. Probably one of the best athletes I’ve ever had at punter. He’s fast. Receiver fast.”
Other compliments that Graham gave Haack were that he has very strong and powerful legs, great character and academic pedigree, such as him being in Barrett, the Honors College.
The intangibles are part of what makes him such a great player, but Haack prides himself on punting. He has become almost a completely different punter since high school, changing many facets of how he punts.
“I’ve come a long way with my steps, my drop, my operation time, my leg swing and my flexibility,” Haack said.
Haack has had some great moments as a Sun Devil but he said his most defining one came last season against UCLA when he pinned the Bruins at the one-yard line in the final minutes of the game. ASU eventually got a safety, which clinched the victory for them. He had five total punts inside the 20-yard line in that game, making it one of his best showings as a Sun Devil.
His preparation during the game is meticulous, but also part of why he has attained the success that he has. So much goes into a punt, from the early stages of the drive when he starts practicing kicking into a net, to his pre-punt routine of swinging his leg.
“Sometimes I’ll look over to the defense so I can tell if they are bringing pressure or not,” he added. “I’ll look at the returner and depending on the call try to kick it away from him. Once the ball is snapped it’s all about having a good drop, keeping my eyes down and staying short and smooth.”
Entering his senior season Haack said that not much has changed other than the natural progression that comes from being an experienced senior in college football.
“I’m a little more confident, a little more relaxed. Each game with experience you get out there and it becomes easier and easier. I’ve got a chip on my shoulder and I’m trying to be the best in the country.”
Since Haack has attempted more career passes than anyone on the Sun Devils roster, he joked on whether playing as an emergency quarterback was a possibility.
“I don’t know about that, I don’t think so,” he said.
Passing talent aside, it could be a special season for Haack, who has the opportunity to win the holy grail of awards for punters.
Haack was one of 28 players named to the Ray Guy Award watch list in July, given to the best collegiate punter in the nation.
“It’s awesome,” he said. “It’s definitely an honor and something I want to win.”