Kentucky's freshman punter Foster a quick study

jsmith3@herald-leader.comAugust 8, 2012 

Landon Foster stood on the field and watched the football appear to grow as it fell toward the ground. The ball would eclipse the sun for a few seconds before landing with a thud.

Back then, it was just fun being a kid shagging footballs for a family friend.

Little did the Kentucky freshman know it would be the start of a future career.

Mostly, he just liked hanging out with family friend Craig Hentrich.

"He would practice at one of the high schools in the off-season and I'd always come out and field balls and he'd show me a thing here or there," Foster said last week at UK Football Media Days.

But Hentrich wasn't just any family friend. He was a longtime NFL punter, who won a Super Bowl ring with Green Bay and nearly won another during his time at Tennessee.

He was a good friend to have once Foster decided he was going to play football as a freshman at Independence High School in Tennessee.

"Once I told (Hentrich) I wanted to play football he said, 'All right, I'll teach you everything now,'" Foster relayed.

The new punter was a quick study, earning a starting spot for three straight seasons and earning first team All-State honors in Tennessee as a senior. He averaged 41.3 yards per punt that season and was named the eighth-best kicker in the country by at least one recruiting service.

Foster also caught the eye of Kentucky, which was looking to replace longtime starter Ryan Tydlacka, an All-Southeastern Conference performer.

On signing day, Coach Joker Phillips talked about Foster in terms reserved for top punters.

"You know an SEC punter when you hear him," Phillips said. "This guy is an SEC punter, high character kid, intelligent, right look in his eyes."

Foster, who is vying for the starting punter spot with junior Joe Mansour, impressed the coaches at one UK camp, but they wanted to put real pressure on him, so they asked him to come up for a second time.

"We'd like to offer you a scholarship, but we'd like to see if you could (kick it that well) again," Phillips said the UK coaches told Foster.

"That's the type of pressure you want on your punter."

Foster shined, as he has so far in fall camp, with Phillips calling the freshman "the fastest we've ever had" at getting the ball in the air.

He'd be ahead of impressive company if that's true, being faster than the likes of Tim Masthay, Green Bay Packers punter, and most recently Tydlacka.

Foster has heard the comparisons to guys like Masthay, and he's flattered.

"Obviously getting to the league is a huge dream," he said. "But, honestly, I don't think about it.

"Tim's a great guy. He was here at my second camp that I came up to. I aspire to go (to the NFL), but I don't think about it, don't put pressure on myself."

The pressure for right now will be in earning the starting spot over Mansour, who has been strong so far this fall camp, Phillips said.

"He and Joe Mansour are punting it well," Phillips said. "The young freshman is probably a little bit faster right now. We all know that's key, how fast you can get it off."

When asked if it was a lot of pressure to put on a freshman to make him the starting punter, Phillips noted that UK has had its share of freshman kickers, guys like Masthay and Tydlacka (pooch punter his freshman season).

"We think Landon will be great also, but it's about how fast will he grow up," Phillips told the Herald-Leader last week. "He's definitely mature enough. Whether he's grown up enough to kick in front of 70,000 or 80,000, don't know."

At the start of camp, Foster said he was feeling no pressure.

"Punting is punting," he said. Special teams coach Greg "Nord is like, 'Just come in and do what you did. We got you for a reason.' So that's nice to know."

Sticky practice report

Following what Phillips called the "beautiful sound" of the first day in full pads, the coach rolled an ice cream truck next to the field on Wednesday.

"Remember when you were little, the ice cream truck would come and you'd lose your mind?" Phillips said clutching his own treat. "I wanted our guys to lose their minds."

The ice cream was a reward for how hard the team is working, he said.

Without a question being asked, Phillips spoke about strength and depth of the running back group, with CoShik Williams, Raymond Sanders, Josh Clemons (when he's not resting knee) and Jonathan George all getting reps with the first team.

The first five days of practice haven't really helped any of the running backs gain an edge on the others. "It's definitely by committee," Phillips said. "They're all good enough to play and good enough to win with."

The freshmen, Justin Taylor and Dyshawn Mobley, are getting repetitions with the second team and will see action at Saturday's scrimmage.

 Defensive backs coach Mike Cassity said there had been a heated competition at safety in the spring between Mikie Benton and Ashely Lowery, but it sounds like with Martavius Neloms' move back to the corner spot, both Benton (free safety) and Lowery (strong safety) will be starters.

Herald-Leader staff writer Ben Roberts contributed to this report. Jennifer Smith: (859) 231-3241. Twitter: @jenheraldleader. Blog: ukfootball.bloginky.com.

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