Tyler Pastula working to keep SDSU’s “Punter-U” reputation intact

SDSU's last five punters. Tyler Pastula looks to join their ranks as elite college football kickers. (Credit: SDSU Athletics)

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Tyler Pastula (Credit: SDSU Athletics)

Thursday after practice, Associate Head Coach and Special Teams Coordinator Zac Barton described SDSU as a developing “Punter-U.” Barton’s insight has merits.

From 2014-2018, the Aztecs averaged 39.63 yards on 326 punts. That production would have ranked 113th out of 122 punters in the nation in 2023. Beginning in 2019, Barton’s moniker emerged on The Mesa.

Starting with Brandon Heicklen’s 45.2 yards per punt in 2019, SDSU has had a punter average over 45 yards per kick every year. Tanner Kuljian (45.4 in 2020), Matt Araiza (51.01 in 2021), and Jack Browning (46.1 in 2022 and 45.4 in 2023) kept Heicklin’s tradition going. For perspective, Navy’s Riley Riethman’s 44.8 yards per punt ranked 22nd in the nation in punting average in 2023.

Each time a new punter had to step into the cleats of their predecessors during this streak, they delivered. Far from being a negative, the pressure to continue that legacy is attractive to kickers.

“My goal was to play at the highest level I can, and this is it,” SDSU punter Tyler Pastula said after Thursday’s practice when asked why he transferred to The Mesa. “This is where everyone wants to play. There’s been countless names coming out of this school. I want to be another one.”

Pastula’s punting pedigree portends Punter-U peristinting in 2024. He has averaged more than 42 yards per kick over the past two seasons at the University of Albany. Working in San Diego, he said, allows him to refine his game because the weather is ideal for punting.

“He’s filling enormous shoes here,” Barton said. “Tyler’s been great, and I’ve asked Tyler to get out of his comfort zone with the things that we do, and he has been open-minded to everything, which I have been really impressed with. He’s older, he’s extremely mature. … He’s been great. At that position, there shouldn’t be a massive dropoff. There will be a dropoff because there were two NFL guys ahead of him, but he has that potential in him to follow those guys.”

SDSU’s kickers line up to kick field goals. (Don De Mars/EVT)

Field Goal Kickers Competition

While Barton’s confidence is high in Pastula’s game, he is less sure about the field goal kickers. Gabriel Plascencia, Abraham Montano, and Nick Lopez are all vying for the position. All three are presently walk-ons. The starter will be on scholarship this fall.

After the first two practices, Barton and his staff began charting the competitor’s attempts. Through eight practices, they were all within one kick of each other. While Barton emphasized that he believes all three can do the job, he is challenging the trio to improve. They haven’t been good enough in camp.

“Right now, we need to be more consistent in (the field goal kicking),” Barton said. “We’ve been up and down. Everyone’s had a bad day. We just finished practice 10, and I definitely couldn’t tell you (who is ahead in the competition). Right now, it is neck and neck and not where I want it to be. … we need somebody to separate themselves from the pack, and through 10 (practices), that hasn’t happened yet. So, we’re running out of days. If (no one steps up), it’ll come down to a gut decision because I think all of them can do it.”

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On Thursday, Aztec Link, SDSU’s NIL Collective, provided its subscribers a chance to watch practice. At the end, popsicles were given out, and the kids in attendance ran through some hastily set-up drills. The specialists helped the youngsters kick field goals.

Their chemistry as a group stood out. Barton also praised this aspect of the group he leads. Pastula credited it to players’ ages. Only Zechariah Ramirez is an underclassman. The rest know how to compete on the field and be good teammates off of it. SDSU’s special team coach’s leadership has a lot to do with it.

“Oh my God, he’s fabulous,” Pastula said when asked about Barton. “I’m not just saying that because you’re asking me. He runs this whole squad. The amount of time I see him spend with us at practice is more than I’ve seen any of my friends. He does drill work with us … He puts in so many positions to succeed. I had to learn more about the schemes and the punting styles than I have even had to learn before. … all around, I feel like I’m in a better place with him here.”

Barton said he hopes the group will stay together even after he awards a scholarship to the kicker who wins the field goal job. He also acknowledged that the losers might transfer to try to find a playing role elsewhere. The placekickers came into camp with their eyes open about the competition. Judging from their demeanor together during practice, their time at SDSU has been positive.

Associate Head Coach Zac Barton at practice. (Credit: SDSU Athletics)


Ramirez and Pastula are competing for the holder position. Barton said the more experienced transfer is currently leading at that position, but no decision has been made on who will get the role.

Adding intrigue to camp is that Plascencia and Montano are left-footed, and Lopez is right-footed. Switching back and forth is challenging. Pastula admitted that he had never held for a lefty before but already feels adept at it.

Among Browning’s favorite moments was his touchdown against Hawaii in 2021. As the holder for Araiza, Browning took a snap on a fake field goal and scored on a 13-yard run in the Aztecs 17-10 victory over the Rainbow Warriors. Pastula emphasized that he would be ready if Barton called his number on a fake this season.

“I’m an athlete first, punter second. I’m not just a kicker over here,” Pastula explained.

More than just hubris, SDSU’s punter has the experience to back up his claim. In a 31-10 victory over No.16 Villanova last year, Pastula attempted a fake punt. With his lead foot planted on the 50, he heaved a pass to his gunner on the right of the formation. It was a well-thrown ball that split Villinova’s returner and blocker, but his intended receiver did not make much of an effort on the ball, and it fell incomplete.

Like his predecessors, head coach Sean Lewis values special teams and schedules time so his team can be elite at it. Spring camp only has a week left, but the specialists have made a lot of progress towards filling some sizeable cleats.

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