When University of Akron punter-kicker Nick Gasser received word he was wanted for an interview to talk about his season thus far, one of his teammates joked that it must’ve been because he was the only one who was scoring.
Not quite true — even if Gasser is the only one to provide the Zips with any points in their last four quarters.
Still, his foot may come in handy as UA faces off against arch rival Kent State at 3:30 p.m. Saturday at Dix Stadium.
Gasser’s trek from true specialist — punting only — boils down to him taking advantage of the opportunity presented to him. Although Gasser kicked field goals in high school, Zips coach Terry Bowden and his staff asked that he concentrate on punting in college.
“He didn't come here as a placekicker. He came here as a punter, and he doesn't have the strongest leg, but he's incredibly accurate,” Bowden said this week. “If he's sitting anywhere around the 50, he's going to put it inside the 20 around the 10 or 5. He's going to keep you pinned back.”
That accuracy translated to placekicking as well. As other kickers on the UA roster struggled to gain any traction, Gasser beat out all of them. He’s the best at both, Bowden said.
“We didn't plan it that way, but it turned out that way and we're sure glad it did,” Bowden said of the 6-foot, 180-pound Liberty Township native.
Gasser is a throwback in the mold of longtime Browns kicker Don Cockcroft, who performed both jobs with the team from 1968-80. In today's game, kickers who do both jobs are the exception, not the rule.
As a punter, Gasser averages 38.5 net yards per punt. As a placekicker, he’s nailed 9-of-11 attempts (81.8 percent). The former walk-on is 5-of-6 between 40 and 49 yards, has been perfect on extra points and, yes, is the Zips' leading scorer with 37 points.
“I guess a lot of it is trust from the coaches,” Gasser said of his duties. “We kind of put everything together this year — the short kicks we're making now and the long kicks, too. I guess a lot of it is just trusting each other and making sure we're consistent with everything.”
Gasser first attempted a field goal last season against Miami, and that’s when he learned rather quickly that the jobs are not one and the same, even if they involve the same body part.
“I realized there's a whole different set of nerves and mindset that you had to get into,” he said. “Punting, you obviously have to do your job, but you're [giving] the ball to the other team. Field goal kicking, you're going out there for points. You're affecting the score of the game, and there's a little bit more pressure on that.”
Gasser struggled during those first few games last season, but as his percentage shows this year, he’s been consistent.
At one point, the coaching staff didn’t believe he could kick longer field goals, but Gasser changed that by learning to concentrate through his process.
“I hear noise, but I don't hear anything specific,” he said. “I just focus on looking at [Kyle] Foster and what his hold is about to be and focusing on one thing and putting everything else out of my mind.”
Obviously, it’s all clicked during his senior season.
“Nick Gasser has just done a real good job of walking on here and finding a way,” Bowden said.
George M. Thomas can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/ByGeorgeThomas.