Punters are often the most overlooked players in the National Football League. In most cases, fans hardly notice a punter until he does something horribly wrong. That said, Chargers punter Mike Scifres usually flies pretty low under the radar.
Scifres’ story is certainly not lacking in curiosity. While playing for Youngstown State, a young freshman named Kyle Smith had returned punts against Scifres, who then played for Western Illinois. Smith, the son of Chargers General Manager A.J. Smith, recommended Scifres to his father. So when it came time for the 2003 NFL draft, Smith picked Scifres in the fifth round.
Chargers Pro Bowl punter Darren Bennett, who had been with the team since 1993, quickly took Scifres under his wing and taught him his famous drop punt, a kick he had brought from his days as an Australian Rules football player and incorporated into the NFL.
“I remember when I got drafted in 2003 I thought that there was no way I was going to make the team,” said Scifres. “They had a two-time all-star punter in Darren, and I thought that they had just wasted a draft pick. But he helped me so much during that training camp. So when they told both of us that we had made the team, I knew that it was my chance to learn from the best. And he really is the best to ever play this game, to ever wear a Charger uniform and to punt the ball. To this day, I owe all my success to him.”
Bennett, who is widely considered to be a punting innovator with his signature kick, saw the young Scifres as a way for him to pay forward the opportunity he was given by people like Bobby Ross, Bobby Beathard and Marty Hurney.
“I think that the two obligations you have are to be good at what you do and then to pass on your knowledge to a younger person,” said Bennett. “So to watch Mike Scifres, who was there for my last year, go on and become such a great punter, it’s really great.”
Along with that guidance from Bennett and a great deal of talent, Scifres has made his mark upon the game of football and on the San Diego Chargers. On Sept. 23, Scifres attempted his 500th career punt against the Atlanta Falcons. One week earlier, on Sept. 16, Scifres landed his 200th career punt inside the 20-yard line. He now has the highest percentage of punts inside the 20. That’s quite an accomplishment.
But the legacy Scifres will one day leave, just like the one left by Bennett, will likely be of a player who did his job well and with little complaint or controversy.
“I want to be remembered as an unselfish guy, one who knew what the team needed him to do. A guy who just went out and did it,” said Scifres. “I want to be the guy who came to work every day and did whatever he had to do to get better.”