Special teams players are the unsung heroes of a football team. They don’t tend to get the attention that skill players like quarterbacks do, but they play a big part in how the game plays out for their team. One missed field goal could be the difference between a win and a loss. One bad punt could give the opposing team great field position to score. People don’t realize it, but special teams is a very important aspect of a game.
This year’s NFL Draft has a solid group of special teams talent. At kicker, Zane Gonzalez and Jake Elliott both could end up being long-term starters in the NFL. Three long snappers – Cole Mazza, Colina Holba and Bradley Northnagel – could have NFL futures. The punter position has a couple of solid players as well, but one in particular stands out above the rest: Idaho’s Austin Rekhow.
At Idaho, Rekhow proved to be a three-way player on special teams, handling kickoffs, punts and field goals. He made 26 of his 29 field goal attempts last year, and pinned 14 of his 49 punts inside the 20-yard line. His abilities in multiple aspects of special teams could make him an intriguing option for teams in later rounds.
cover32 got the chance to talk to Rehkow about his journey leading up to the NFL Draft.
You played at both kicker and punter at Idaho. Which do you see as the better fit for you at the next level?
Rehkow: I feel that I’m very capable of doing both at the next level, although I feel that my highest ceiling would be at punter. It’s something that comes very naturally to me, and I think that a lot of NFL teams see it that way, as well.
Specialists like yourself tend to get drafted in the later rounds, if at all. What makes you stand out from the rest of this year’s pack?
Rehkow: I think that my four-year body of work kinda speaks for itself. As far as consistency for a punter goes, I think it’s huge. The other aspect, like you mentioned, is that I’m able to do both at a very high level. Regardless of what position they take me, if a starter kicker or punter goes down, I can fill in pretty adequately and possibly save a roster spot for a few weeks.
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You started off your career as a soccer player in high school. How did your preparation and training change as you changed sports?
Rehkow: I played my freshman year in high school, as far as soccer goes. It just wasn’t something I loved to do anymore. I kinda just jumped to football naturally, as far as kicking goes. Once I knew that, I put in the time: that’s really the big thing. You gotta put in those reps off the field. I’d play safety and receiver during practice. I’d go about a half an hour before kicking and stay an extra half hour after because I knew I had to get it in. I knew that I had the capabilities to be good. Ever since then, you’ll constantly see me go out before practice and stay after practice trying to get any reps in that I can.
You said that you decided that you didn’t want to do soccer anymore. What made you decide to make the switch to football?
Rehkow: I played football my freshman year, as well, and our coach had me suited up for varsity – I was the backup – as a freshman. So my sophomore year, I started at kicker and punter and had a pretty successful year. I was like, “OK, you know, I might be able to play on in college. ” Soccer, I mean, I love playing it, but as I got more and more into it the environment, I just didn’t care for it anymore. Soccer players are bit of a different breed at times.
I actually fractured my tailbone my sophomore year playing basketball during the season, so I was like, “OK, I’m gonna take this spring off,” and then I took it off and I was like, “You know, I think I’m done with soccer.” I put everything into football and basketball. I actually joined the track team the following year just for speed work and stuff like that for basketball. I always have that “soccer swing”, which is how a lot of kickers start out.
As far as your game goes, which would you say is more impressive: your leg power or your kick accuracy?
Rehkow: As far as punting goes, I feel that I’ve got a pretty live leg, which positively helps. If there’s any kind of room for error, a big leg can kinda mask it up. Field goal wise, I’ve been fortunate enough, like I said, to have a strong leg. The accuracy has kinda taken over. I used to try to [hit it] in the corner. Now, it’s just making sure everything’s staying nice and smooth. Obviously, it doesn’t matter if it doesn’t go through the uprights. Accuracy for field goals, because obviously it’s a huge aspect. In the punting game, having a live leg.
When did you realize that you could play at an NFL level?
Rehkow: I had coaches saying like, “oh yeah, you have a possibility” probably around my senior year. I was having a good senior year. But personally, it hit me after my first game in college. I punted well – this was back when I was just punting, I didn’t kick for my first few years. After that first game, especially after I talked to my dad, I was like, “you know what, I’m gonna keep playing after college. I’m gonna make it happen. I have the capability.” Once I set that out, you got that set in your mind, and again, you just put in the work.
More of a personal question here, what team did you root for growing up?
Rehkow: I honestly did not pay attention to football until I started playing it. I’ve never been a professional sports guy in any sport, but college wise I always like Texas. My freshman year, when I started playing football, that’s when Cam Newton had a sensational year at Auburn. Ever since then I’ve been an Auburn fan. As far as NFL teams go, I’ve got a preference to Seattle [Seahawks], because they’re regional. That’s kind of a home state there. But I never found myself a “fan” of any team. Hopefully that changes in a couple of months.
Which player(s) do you strive to be like?
Rehkow: Kicking wise, it’s kind of an interesting spot. It’s not like I really watched anybody at kicker or punter. The big thing is, I want to have success that guys like a [Johnny] Hekker or a [Pat] McAfee have had because they were in the top of the league in net (yards per punt). Ultimately, that’s the main goal: you need to kick far all day.
What questions have teams asked you in interviews?
Rehkow: I’ve only had like a few interviews with a couple of different team scouts. I mean, they’re pretty basic. My athletic background, any off-the-field issues. There’s not much, they mostly ask the same questions you’ve asked.
– Jacob Infante is a National Editor for cover32 and also covers the Chicago Bears. He can be followed on Twitter @jacobinfante24.
– You can also follow Austin on Twitter @rehkow5.