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SPOTLIGHT
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Punter a mainstay for Tigers

Published on -10/7/2012, 8:22 PM

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By CONOR NICHOLL

cnicholl@dailynews.net

Throughout its seven-year MIAA tenure, the Fort Hays State Unviersity football team's most consistent and arguably best position has been its punter.

Tyler Elder started for three years and earned all-MIAA recognition.

Then Ethan Kosjer took over for the last three falls and was a two-time all-region selection, collected second-team All-American honors last fall and broke several school records.

In the spring, FHSU struggled in all facets of the punting game. However, junior Cameron Owens, a transfer from Highland Community College, has improved and delivered a strong start with his punts -- and some unexpected offense.

"It's pretty hard to live up to (Kosjer's) standards," Owens said. "I am doing my best."

Fort Hays (1-4, 1-4 MIAA) played host to Lindenwood (Mo.) University (4-1, 3-1 MIAA) in the annual homecoming game Saturday night at Lewis Field Stadium. Owens has rushed the ball twice on fake punts and recorded 63 yards.

"It's an adrenaline rush," Owens said. "I like it a lot."

From 2006 to 2011, the Tiger punters were involved in 14 offensive plays and had 108 total yards. No FHSU punter had rushed for positive yardage since 2007.

Owens recorded a 19-yard rush in Week 3 versus Northwest Missouri State University and had a 44-yard run last Saturday in the Tigers' first win against Truman State (Mo.) University.

"It was supposed to be just a regular rugby punt, and I saw there was like no one 20 yards down the field," Owens said. "I just took off and started running."

Fort Hays second-year coach Chris Brown gives Owens the option on whether he wants to run.

"If it's fourth-and-3 or fourth-and-2, and if they are going to give it to you, go ahead and take it, and they gave it to him, and he ran with it," Brown said. "I am sure teams are going to start spying him and making sure that he is not allowed to do that."

Punting-wise, Owens has punted rugby style where he runs to the side and then kicks it away, a method recently popularized at various levels. Owens said he doesn't mind going traditional, but punted rugby-style at Highland and earned second team all-Jayhawk Conference after he averaged 39.1 yards per punt on 51 attempts.

With the Tigers, Owens has rated well in the three biggest punting categories: gross average, net average (after the return) and percentage of punts inside the 20-yard line. Owens has averaged 40.1 yards per punt, 30.4 net punting yards and has delivered 29 percent of his punts inside the 20-yard line.

His gross average is virtually identical to Kosjer's first year (40.3). Fort Hays' net punting average is the worst since 2006, but Brown said that's more because of the Tigers' coverage. Fort Hays permitted a 39-yard return last week. Owens' percentage of punts inside the 20 is second-best for FHSU in the MIAA era, trailing only Kosjer's record-breaking year last fall (32 percent).

"I have been practicing a lot, just working on my form," Owens said.

Fort Hays has the third-most punts in the 15-team conference (34) and Owens stands sixth in punting average.

"He has done a good job with it," Brown said. "He punts really well. We have just got to cover better on his punts. There are a few times we are there to make the tackle, and we just don't make it. I think we had three guys last week on their big return, and they all three missed, and that hurts his average a little bit."

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