David punts over Goliath

Wednesday, October 11, 2006
(Photo by Don Frazier)

The most acclaimed player on Southeast Misssouri State University's team is punter David Simonhoff. While quarterbacks grab headlines, Simonhoff is racking up All-American honors. Simonhoff tells OFF about life as a punter.

The score is 19-14 with just under three minutes remaining and Southeast Missouri State has the lead. Two-time All-American punter David Simonhoff runs out to punt the ball -- 47.1 yards (his NCAA-leading average) away -- and do his part to ensure victory. Only something goes wrong -- the punt is blocked, leaving Samford just 22-yards from a game-winning score. So, just what was going through David's head after something like this?

We can't say for sure. We didn't get to talk to Southeast's standout, possibly the most skilled player on the team who plays a position that gets little love -- Simonhoff.

But here's what the silent star said the week before the game.

"When you're out on the field it's like a reckless state of mind. You believe in yourself, but if you make a really bad mistake, you don't care so you're just absolutely reckless. You're relaxed and calm, and thinking you're not perfect and accepting it. And I'll kick better when I take that word perfect out of my mind and instead try my best; it changes my outlook on things."

Not what you'd expect to hear from a football player. But Simonhoff isn't your normal football guy.

Simonhoff, a senior from Coconut Grove (Miami), Fla.. majoring in university studies, has faced adversity before in his career at Southeast, especially last season when through four games he had three punts blocked. However, he says he is constantly adjusting to what his opponents throw at him.

"I had to change my technique because they were coming way too fast," Simonhoff said. "I don't know if it was because I had a big season my sophomore year, so my junior year they were just trying to all-out rush me. It was brutal, and I had to change my punting to basically a one step punt. The balls don't travel as far and my average suffered for it. I wish I could've just been able to go out there and do my thing and have fun and kick the heck out of the ball but that wasn't the situation."

Preparing for games, conference or otherwise, has become something of an experiment for Simonhoff, who says he has to try out different techniques every week to find out what is working for him, especially if the weather is cold or rainy.

"You have to feel out how you're kicking and how your body is that day," Simonhoff said. "Everybody's different and that's a hard learning curve to accept, I'll see where I'm at; see how the ball's coming off my foot. A lot of it is feel, like when the ball's coming off my foot the follow through is very important. When you strike the ball, because your arm is shorter than your leg, a lot of kickers tend to slice the ball when they hit it instead of coming straight through, and that's when you get your best kicks. Whenever you hear of guys getting 60, 70-yard punts, that's when they have the perfect kick -- when the ball actually floats out that few inches you have that great contact."

It has become pretty apparent that whatever Simonhoff is doing, he is one of the best players the Redhawks have, although you might not ever hear about him. But this is one athlete who really is a team player.

"I just want to do the best I can and be the best I can be, and if other people get credit that's fine because they work really hard," said Simonhoff. "They work harder physically than I do, but I work harder mentally than they do, so it has a way of equalizing. At the same time, everyone is part of the team so they have a right to receive honors, and I'm always really happy for them because, with the physical work these guys do, some of these guys are paying a price now that they're going to have to deal with the rest of their lives."

Many have been throwing Simonhoff's name around as a candidate for the NFL, and he doesn't disagree, although he is cautiously optimistic.

"I just try to be realistic about things," said Simonhoff. "I want to finish my degree if I can. I think athletic ability-wise I'm just very blessed, and actually I have a legitimate chance. There are players I know I can kick with, that I can compete with. You just have to be at the right place at the right time. I think I have a chance, but it's just like the recruiting process -- you can get let down pretty hard and it's hard to get your hopes back up."

But David Simonhoff is busy living in the moment, and right now that means a 3-1 start for the Redhawks and concentrating on winning the Ohio Valley Conference with new coach Tony Samuel, just one season after finishing only 2-9.

"He's a great coach to start with, and he has a great staff," Simonhoff said. "They're all from the same philosophy and that helps a lot. Our season is going to be made or broken in the next couple weeks, and the OVC is a conference that you can make a couple of mistakes and still compete. I think we can play for a conference championship."

Big words from a big talent.

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