UPDATE: The Oregonian is reporting that Loomis has signed with the NFC champion Seattle Seahawks.
Last year, the best punter in college football might also have been the oldest. At an age when many pro players start thinking about leaving the game, 27-year-old Kyle Loomis has been rated best in his position on most draft sites.
In 2006, Loomis started his freshman year for Oregon State in 2006. That team went 10-4 team and won close victories against USC, Oregon and Hawaii—during which Loomis' solo tackle saved a sure touchdown from future NFL standout Davone Bess. Those Beavers went on to beat Missouri at the Sun Bowl and Loomis attracted national attention but left school the following summer to join the military and begin special forces training.
After six years away from the sport, he entered Portland State to study criminology and wound up back on the field. He quickly became the top college punter in the nation, leading the nation in average yards per punt the past two seasons and emerging as a consensus All-American. As he awaits this weekend's NFL draft, Loomis sat down with Willamette Week and explained the joy of punting to a city that may know little about football but understands hang time all too well.
WW: With the draft approaching, is there a specific team you're hoping for?
Kyle Loomis: âAs a punter, you want to play somewhere sunny or, ideally, in a dome. It's just a better situation for punting. Obviously, at this point, I'll go with whatever team wants me. If you can get drafted, great, but you might get picked up as a free agent â that's kinda the route that we usually take.â
When will you know?
Saturday would be my day. It's usually anywhere between the fifth and seventh rounds, and that's if it happens at all. Only 38 punters have ever been drafted. That's what I've been told. Last year, just one was drafted, and he went to Chicago.
What makes punting important?
I would say that if a team feels like they're not going to get a first down and continue on offense, they punt the ball–meaning that I'll go on the field, take a snap from about fifteen yards away, and try to change field position so our defense will be in a better position to stop their offense. I try to punt the ball high with a lot of hangtime to give our team time to get down the field and make a tackle to stop them from bringing the ball back.
Punting kinda changed into a true position because of Ray Guy. It was there before him, but he was the first to actually make a difference by changing the field. It's finally starting to come around now where NFL coaches and college coaches are really treating punting and kicking as a third of the game. Special teams can win the game or they can lose it. Ray Guy was the first to realize that a punter can change the game by himself.
How did you first get into punting?
I played soccer from when I was little, and I could always kick a ball really far. I wasn't the best soccer player, but I always had the leg. My uncle who played football for Washington State, he told me to try kicking a football, and ... it worked! I started in ninth grade with field goals and punting. Before my sophomore year at Roseburg [High School], I went to summer camp to learn some technique – it's just a little bit different than kicking a soccer ball – and from there I thrived. Most of the kickers these days, they usually play soccer all the way through high school, and they help out the football team by kicking field goals. You can definitely do both. Kickers and punters at the NFL level are world class athletes these days. People just don't realize that.
Despite all of the success at Oregon State your freshman year, you still wanted to leave?
After the season was over, I started getting sick of school, and, moving into spring and summer, I kinda wanted a change. I never had any issues with football. I just started getting burnt out on school, and I started talking to coach Riley about how I thought I needed a life change. As I was leaving, I decided I didn't wanna go back to Roseburg, so I looked into joining the military and started talking to recruiters. I wanted to find a job that suited me if I was gonna do it. I think I officially left Oregon State at the end of the summer in 2011 to join the army, and I turned 21 during basic training in Georgia.
I definitely enjoyed it. After a two year process, if you pass everything, you eventually graduate as a Green Beret. You go through basic training and then Airborne school and then go up to North Carolina for a special ops prep course – then language training and a bunch of stuff like that. I screwed up an ankle in a prep course before selection, and they basically told me I'd be a liability so I had to leave that unit and stay in Fort Bragg. Basically, my ankle wouldn't let me continue as Airborne qualified. I could've stayed Infantry, but I wasn't very promotable because I couldn't jump. I ended up taking a medical discharge.
And, then, how'd you wind up at Portland State?
I got offered a job working for the Oregon Department of Transportation as a low level engineer through the summer. I just wanted to take a break for a little while, re-acclimate, and, as that was ending, I realized I could kinda still punt a little bit by helping a family friend – he was punting at Roseburg and asked me to give him some tips … I'd started looking at different schools. I wanted to get a degree in criminology, and Portland State had a program I liked. Around that time, I noticed that coach Burton was up here – he used to be a coach at Oregon State when I was there – so I shot him an email and asked if he remembered me and said 'I think I can still punt if you need anyone'. He got back to me in a couple of hours and told me to show up for practice.
At this point, most of the draft boards have you listed as the most talented prospect, but your age still seems to be a red flag. Do you think that's going to damage your chances?
I don't think coming out older hurts a punter as much. A lot of the younger punters coming to the NFL, it takes them a while to get accustomed, and I don't really have those sort of issues anymore. My freshman year at Oregon State, I was a little nervous, jittery, but, coming back to football, I haven't been nervous for a game yet. After all the training and time in the army, there's nothing on a football field that's gonna have the same high level of adrenalin. I just go out there and do my thing, and it's been working out so far. Once you establish yourself as a good punter in the NFL, there are guys that are 38 right now who've been punting for 16 years. As long as you can get with a team, and show the league you're good at what you do, it can definitely last for quite a while. You just have to break in. That's the hardest thing to do.