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A haven for kickers

Posted Apr 7, 2012

San Diego has become a mecca for specialists to train and compete during the offseason, often in a group setting that includes former Chargers John Carney and Darren Bennett.

SAN DIEGO – It takes a village to raise a child, the proverb goes.

Does it also take a village to raise an NFL kicker?

San Diego State punter Brian Stahovich, who hopes to join a few of his Aztecs teammates as the next crop of NFL players out of a burgeoning college program, is about to find out.

Stahovich believes he can compete at the professional level, and his faith is tethered to something more tangible than a dream. Honing his craft in San Diego, Stahovich has been able to compare his punts to the likes of New York Giants punter Steve Weatherford, Green Bay Packers punter Tim Masthay and New Orleans Saints punter Thomas Morestead.

“San Diego is the mecca of specialists, whether it’s kicking, punting or snapping,” Stahovich said. “Especially in the offseason, all of them come out and work with John Carney at his house in San Diego.”

Stahovich averaged 44.3 yards per punt from 2009-11 for the Aztecs and uncorked a 50-yard punt in 11 of San Diego State’s 13 games last season.

He’d love to get drafted. The reality: just 11 punters have been drafted the last five years, and most of them in the seventh round. Even as one of the nation’s top kicking prospects (ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. ranks Stahovich as the fourth-best punter in the class), there are only 32 NFL jobs available, one on each team.

“I’m a big fan of competing and competition,” Stahovich said. “I love that stuff. I’ll work as hard as I can to be the best.”

Stahovich is part of a sort of “chaser” group hoping to pry NFL jobs from incumbents. Both types participate in a circle of kickers that often congregates around John Carney, Michael Husted and Darren Bennett.

The same lineage helped Stahovich at SDSU.

“I was mentored by tons of people that really showed me the ropes, figured out my style and gave me the confidence to go out there and do it,” Stahovich said. “From then on I had a great career.”

Nick Novak, part of the local kicking network going on three years, said while the players all help each other, there are overriding implications for the still-active specialists.

“It’s common to go to a field on Tuesday and Thursday and find eight to 10 kickers who are in the NFL or are trying to make the NFL. You’re constantly working with guys who are at the top of their game or are extremely hungry trying to make it,” Novak said. “It provides a great environment to compete and be around like-minded guys.”

Carney hosted many of the kickers and punters at a gym in his garage during last year’s lockout, and is opening a sports performance facility in North San Diego County for all athletes, but tailoring it to kickers and punters.

Novak is working out at Chargers Park frequently, but usually gets together with a group when he kicks.

“A lot of the guys are coming after people’s jobs,” Novak said. “You really can’t duplicate this type of environment.”

Bennett and Mike Scifres have helped Stahovich a little with the Australian rules kick, which the two mastered as Chargers punters. It’s used to make the ball bounce backward or stick for punts aimed close to the opponent’s goal line.

Stahovich wouldn’t mind spending training camp in San Diego, though it’s out of his control.

“I think it would be cool,” Stahovich said. “I’ve worked out with Mike Scifres and he has a huge leg. It was an honor to work with him.”

For now, Stahovich reflects on a career at SDSU, where he helped the Aztecs rise from two to nine wins in a couple years.

“I started as a true freshman and we went 2-10. That was kind of degrading. No one likes losing, especially coming from my high school (Cathedral Catholic) where we won the CIF championship my senior year,” Stahovich said.

“And then Brady Hoke came in. We went 4-8 the next year, and then everybody started buying into the program and believing we could turn this thing around. We went 9-4 the next year and 8-5 last year. Everyone’s starting to buy into Coach (Rocky) Long because he kept the same ideology.”

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