Following in the footsteps of a departing legend is a challenge many athletes have faced. Rarely has that role been occupied by a punter. The starting punter for SDSU in 2022 will be replacing the “PUNT GOD” who took the nation by the storm with his 80+ yard booming kicks and hard-hitting special teams tackles (and late hit out-of-bounds penalty).
In addition to the notoriety that Matt Araiza, last year’s Ray Guy Award winner as the nation’s top punter, received for his social media viral videos, his performance had a direct result in the program reaching 12 wins for the first time in school history.
Under the tutelage of head coach Brady Hoke, the Aztecs have been one of the winningest programs in Division I football with a philosophy built on strong defense and field position. A punter’s role in that philosophy is paramount to its successful applicability.
Part two of EVT’s special teams season preview details the punters who will be vying for the starting role based on an exclusive interview with special teams coordinator Doug Deakin.
Before detailing the position, a word about our method, EVT writers Andre Haghverdian and Paul Garrison graded the various aspects listed below, which were averaged to arrive at the grades provided.
Confidence in the starter(s): B+
Junior Jack Browning is entering fall camp as the man slated to replace Araiza as the starting punter. Despite never punting in a game in Division I, Browning has won over the coaching staff with his overall body of work since the start of the offseason program.
“He’s done a great job in the strength and condition program, running with the skill guys, taking care of his body in the weight room,” said coach Deakin. “(He) seems more flexible in the things that he can do (that he could not do last year).”
Paired up with Browning with be returning long snapper Ryan Wintermeyer, who, as a true freshman walk-on, made every punt snap for the team last year with no bad snaps.
Star Power: B-
The word “star” rarely embodies a special teams specialist in college football. Matt Araiza defied that logic with his record-setting performance last season, earning national interviews, articles, and soundbites across the nation. It’s important to remember that Araiza’s star power came from his on-field performance, not just as a punter but as a tackler in kick and punt coverage. Browning will be looking to step into that role as an athlete and not just as a specialist.
Proven Depth: C-
Despite the fact that neither Browning nor redshirt freshman Collyn Hopkins had attempted a punt in game action, the Aztecs felt good about their depth and evolving competition heading out of spring camp.
That was thwarted with news of Hopkins’ academic issues that will force him to not be on the roster this season. “He’s chosen the Engineering major here, and that is as tough a program as it should be, and unfortunately, he’s not on the upcoming team for this season with academic requirements,” said Deakin. “As soon as he can take care of the academic portion of it, we’ll see (where he fits in) once that happens.”
The depth at the position will now be filled by incoming walk-on transfer Jarrett Reeser. After walking on at Michigan State at the start of 2022, Reeser entered the transfer portal following spring camp. While the Aztecs recruited Reeser once he entered the portal primarily to help in the field goal-kicking competition, he is also a great punter who can provide competition to Browning in that aspect.
“One of the biggest things in playing for coach Hoke and being on his staff, this program is built on competition,” said Deakin. “Doesn’t matter if you are a scholarship athlete, doesn’t matter if you are a walk-on athlete. If you know what to do and how to do it, and can do it in a team setting and in the game, then you are for sure getting your shot.”
Browning was a Second-Team All-Conference punter in his lone season at Grossmont College prior to transferring to SDSU. He punted 60 times with a 38.2-yard average, while 14 of the punts were downed inside the 20-yard line and included a long of 69 yards.
As a senior at Canyon High, Reeser was named to the MaxPreps All-California First-Team and the CIF Southern Section Foothill League First-Team for the Spring 2021 season, averaging 45.1 yards per punt (2nd in CA) and a long of 72. As a junior, Reeser was even better, leading the nation with 47.1 yards per punt and earning MaxPreps Junior All-America First-Team.
“He brings tremendous athleticism and leg power,” Deakin said about Reeser, equating the thundering sound the ball makes coming off his foot as the same sound he recalls balls coming off Araiza’s foot.
It’s evident that the Aztecs have the talent to replace Araiza’s contribution to the punting duties from last season. The execution during Division I game action has yet to be determined.
Conference Comparison: B
The top five leaders in yard per punt average from last season have departed the conference. In addition to Araiza, Ryan Stonehouse (Colorado State), who finished a close second with a 50.9-yard per punt average, signed with the Tennessee Titans as an undrafted free agent.
Browning was not named to any preseason teams or watch lists which, given his lack of game action, is certainly understandable.
Two returning punters from the conference did, however. Aaron Rodriguez from New Mexico was named on the Mountain West Preseason All-Conference Team. He finished 8th in the conference with a 42.3-yard per punt average last year.
Stephen Kotsanlee from Utah State was the only punter in the conference named to the Ray Guy Award Preseason Watch List. The award, won last year by Araiza, is handed to the nation’s top punter. Kotsanlee was tied for sixth in the conference last year with Wyoming punter Ralph Fawaz with a 42.5-yard per punt average.