COLLEGE STATION, Texas -- Every season that he has been on campus, Texas A&M punter Ryan Epperson has found a way to be the last man standing in the punting battle.
As a freshman, he took over punting duties seven games into the year. As a sophomore, he appeared in nine games before an injury interrupted his season. As a junior he won a battle in fall camp to earn the job and did so again this year as a senior.
And while his punting average has gone up each season since his arrival, this season he's punting with the best in the country through three games. Epperson ranks third in the FBS in punting average, yielding 47.6 yards a kick on 14 attempts so far.
But not all of his punts have been boomers. He has had a few that weren't hit as well as he wanted, but he has been fortunate enough to get some favorable bounces. He's trying to eliminate those not-so-great punts and become more consistent.
"The stats are definitely great," Epperson said. "Whenever I am connecting with the ball it’s traveling pretty well and that’s a great confidence booster. I obviously don’t want to go out there and hit those rollers, so I’m just trying to work on turning over every single ball in the game and eliminating those rolls of the side of my foot. Like I said, whenever I do make good contact I’m getting some pretty good hang time. I’m just trying to force those catches so the recovering team doesn’t have to do much."
So far, when it comes to defending punt returns, the Aggies are doing well in that department. They've only had three punts returned against them so far for a total of six yards, an average of two yards per return. The Aggies are tied for 14th nationally in that statistic.
"I think the net punting average is excellent," coach Kevin Sumlin said. "One of the tops in the country and our coverage has been very, very good."
This fall, Epperson competed with sophomore Drew Kaser during fall camp before eventually winning the job. Epperson said he focused on what Sumlin and special teams coordinator Brian Polian wanted from him -- consistency.
"I just try to stay as consistent as I can throughout camp after I’ve been able do most of these camps," Epperson said. "A big thing Coach Sumlin and Coach Polian were wanting is coverage punts. They wanted four-second hangs and 30+ yards. In the SEC, you don’t want to give the punt returner a chance to return the ball at all. Really, our goal every game is having that average of 39 yards. Every game they are asking for a net of 39 and I was able to give a consistent 40, 45 yard ball with great hang time, which definitely helps out the coverage units and that’s what they like most about my punting."
Texas A&M is second in the country in net punting with a 47.2 yard net average. Only Texas (49.4) ranks higher.
As the Aggies continue their SEC schedule this Saturday against Arkansas, Epperson is aware of how critical his role will be.
"In the SEC, I think field position is definitely a key factor in winning the game," he said. "Some of the best punters reside in the SEC. I’m just trying to help A&M get good field position whenever the offense can’t get a first down. It will definitely help us win some games this season."