David Simonhoff had a solid rookie season as Southeast Missouri State University's punter last year -- but he knew he could have done so much better.
So Simonhoff spent the majority of his summer making sure he did everything in his power to improve.
The result, through three games of the 2004 season, is that Simonhoff leads the nation's NCAA Division I-AA punters with an average of 45.7 yards per attempt. And as the 0-3 Indians' offense has struggled to score points, Simonhoff has received plenty of work with 18 punts.
"Things have been going pretty good for me so far, a lot better than last year," Simonhoff said at Tuesday's practice. "I worked really hard in the offseason and it's paid off."
It's not like Simonhoff was bad last year. As a true freshman, he averaged 41 yards per punt and earned second-team all-Ohio Valley Conference honors.
"I just wasn't real consistent. It's tough being a freshman," Simonhoff said.
Over the summer, Simonhoff said he trained in his native Miami area with renowned punting guru Mike McCabe, a former NFL player. McCabe has worked with Simonhoff since his senior year in high school.
"He saw me kick in high school, and I just got lucky, him wanting to work with me," Simonhoff said. "He's one of the top punting coaches in the nation and we talk every day."
Simonhoff said he was able to improve on all aspects of his game over the summer.
"I gained a lot of weight and got stronger," he said, "and I really improved my technique. That's such a big part of punting.
"I felt confident I would have a good year. Mike McCabe told me he thought I was the best punter out of all the ones he coached, and that gave me a lot of confidence."
Simonhoff, who packs a solid 200 pounds on his 6-foot-2 frame, was a strong all-around athlete at Coral Gables (Fla.) High School, also playing some quarterback and safety. In addition, as a standout soccer player, he participated in the U.S. Olympic Development Program.
But Simonhoff decided to give up soccer during his senior year in order to concentrate on football.
"I was kind of burned out, and I wanted to concentrate on football, the sport I loved," he said.
Simonhoff figures the move has paid off. After receiving looks from major programs, he settled on Southeast and, despite a drastic change in lifestyle, is glad he did.
"It's sometimes tough to get a punting scholarship at big schools. I was going to walk on at Florida State, but I decided to come here," he said. "It's different than Miami, a lot slower paced, but it's been fine."
Southeast coach Tim Billings believes Simonhoff has the potential to be an NFL punter. That's Simonhoff's ultimate goal, but he's not thinking too far ahead.
"I want to, but that's a long way off," he said. "I just have to take it one game at a time."
As for a shorter-term goal, Simonhoff believes the Indians still have a big season ahead of them despite their early struggles. Southeast begins OVC play Saturday night against Samford in its first home game.
"Everybody has stayed real positive," he said. "I think we'll do real well in our conference.
"And it will be a lot more fun to get off some good punts in a game that we win."
Simonhoff isn't the only Southeast player listed in the national Division I-AA statistics.
Quarterback Andrew Goodenough is tied for fourth in completions per game (26), tied for 22nd in total offense (244.3 yards per game) and ranks 36th in passing efficiency (123.2 rating). Goodenough leads the OVC in passing yards per game (252). He has completed 66.1 percent of his attempts for 756 yards.
Tight end Ray Goodson is 27th in receptions per game (6.3), while tailback Jamel Oliver is 60th in receptions per game (5.0). They have caught 19 and 15 passes, respectively.
Tailback David Taufoou is 43rd in scoring (8.0 points per game). He has scored four of Southeast's five touchdowns.
As a team, the Indians are 18th in passing offense (255 yards per game).
But on the negative side, Southeast's schedule -- featuring Division I-A Bowling Green and Central Michigan along with Division I-AA top-ranked Southern Illinois -- has at least partially caused the Indians to rank as one of the nation's worst Division I-AA defensive teams.
Southeast is last among 117 Division I-AA squads in total defense (517.7 yards per game), 114th in passing defense (274 yards per game) and 112th in rushing defense (243.7 yards per game). The Indians are also 115th in scoring defense (45 points per game), although not all of that has been given up by the defense.