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Wood's punting future remains up in the air
By Patricia Babcock McGraw | Daily Herald Columnist

Libertyville punter Greg Wood has made a habit of giving his team good field position with superlative punting the last couple of seasons.

 

Steve Lundy | Staff Photographer

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Published: 10/10/2008 12:05 AM

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It's "Football Video Games, 101."

On fourth down in any football video game, no matter the field position, gamers will typically do what they're always hoping the coaches of their favorite real teams will do.

Go for it.

"My friends all go for it. Definitely," said Greg Wood, a senior at Libertyville High School.

Wood?

Well, not so much.

"I bring out the punter," Wood laughed. "My friends just sigh and are like, 'Ugh!'"

Wood takes it in stride, though. He wants to punt. He knows he needs to. How could he not?

Wood is a proud punter himself. And you better believe he's going to push punting front and center any time he gets the chance.

Interestingly, he's actually had plenty of chances to do just that on the real field this season for Libertyville.

While it's not necessarily good news for the Wildcats that they've had to punt so much, it has helped their cause that Wood has been punting so darn well.

In fact, as Libertyville labored to right the ship after an 0-3 start, it was Wood who played as big a role as anyone. According to coach Randy Kuceyeski, the Wildcats wouldn't be 3-3 now, and one of the hottest teams in the North Suburban Lake Division, without him.

"He is one of the reasons we're where we're at," Kuceyeski said of Wood, who is also a backup tight end, but mostly just punts. "He's getting a lot of yardage on his punts, he's punting the ball high, which puts a lot of pressure on the guys who are fielding the punts. In one of our last games, a fumbled punt return resulted in a score for us.

"I would say that in the games we've won, a deciding factor for us has definitely been Greg because of the field position he's given us."

Wood's goal is to pin the opposition inside its own 20-yard line at least once a game with his punts. He's done that with room to spare, tallying a total of eight such punts this season.

His overall yardage is impressive, too.

Quick to credit long snapper Josh Bricker for much of his effectiveness, Wood is also the beneficiary of a strong leg. He averaged about 45 yards per punt in Libertyville's last three games - wins over Zion-Benton, North Chicago and Stevenson. Overall, he's at about 40 yards per punt on the season.

His high for the year is a 62-yarder against Lake Zurich. He also had a 54-yarder in that game.

His career-best went for 71 yards in 2007.

Not bad by high school standards, let alone college or even the pros.

"Punting in high school is kind of a lost art," Kuceyeski said. "You probably never really appreciate it until you have a punter who can really boot the ball like Greg can."

But Wood, who has punted for four years at Libertyville - the last two as the starter on varsity, points out that success in punting is measured not just by yardage, but by hangtime. In fact, he says that hangtime can be even more important for punters who would like to move up to the next level.

"You want a longer hangtime so that your coverage team has more time to get (down field)," Wood said. "That's what the college coaches are looking for. They don't even take our stats. They want to get the tapes so they can time that themselves. It's that important to them."

The difference between a Division I punter and a Division III punter is literally the blink of an eye.

Wood says Division I punters are getting hangtimes between 4.4 and 4.6 seconds. A half-second less is costly. Hangtimes of about 4.0 seconds will get punters mostly Division III looks, maybe some Division II if they're lucky.

During Libertyville's winning streak, Wood boomed a 43-yard punt that hung in the air for a whopping 4.8 seconds. He also had a few similar punts against Barrington in the season opener.

He's had stretches where he's exactly in Division I range, but on average, Wood's hangtime hovers at around 4.2 seconds.

"I would really love to punt in college at the Division I level," Wood said. "I've just got to get that hangtime up a little bit."

So how does a punter do that?

According to Wood, it's all in the drop.

"You could have amazing leg power and not get good punts off," Wood said. "But if you perfected the technique of dropping the ball and getting it to hit your foot just right, you'd be fine.

"Working on the drop is the most important part of my practice. When I'm at home I'll just walk around sometimes and drop the ball, just so I can keep working on it. When you drop the ball a certain way, kind of tilting it sideways or a little bit down, you have a better chance of kicking a spiral. Spirals cut into the wind a lot easier and you get better hangtime. You get better hangtime when you can get the ball to turn over, too."

If Wood sounds like a pro, it's because he's been trained like one.

The last two years, he went to an elite kicking camp in Wisconsin that taught all the best techniques and tricks of the trade. He also went to a camp at the University of Michigan, where he wound up being rated the No. 1 kicker at the camp.

Wood is hoping that counts for something.

His grandfather and his dad Lewis are both Michigan men. Wood has been going to Michigan football games since he was 5 years old. He was only 7 when Michigan won the national title in 1997, but he says he remembers that moment like it happened yesterday.

Getting the chance to punt at Michigan would be a dream come true for Wood.

"I would love to wear that helmet and get on that field and go through that tunnel," Wood said of the Wolverine experience. "If it comes down to just going to Michigan as a regular student, or punting at a Division III school, it would be a really tough choice. I'm not sure what I'd pick. Those are my two favorite loves. Hopefully, I can find a way to combine them."

pbabcock@dailyherald.com