Punter Rob Park
Rob Park, the second-year punter with the Rebels, was a typical freshman last season. After starting off with a case of "nerves," for lack of a better term, Park settled in as the Rebs' starting punter and got stroner and more effective as the year progressed. Now, he considers himself a veteran even though he's just a sophomore. Read aobut it inside.
When Rob Park was signed out of Memphis University School a year and a half ago, he was just coming off leading MUS to a Tennessee State Championship as an All-State quarterback.
Park knew his future in college football, however, revolved around his ability to punt.
Ole Miss was in a situation where they needed a punter immediately. Four-year starter Cody Ridgeway had graduated and there wasn't an accomplished punter on campus.
Enter Park - the heir apparent, despite never having taken a college snap.
That's a lot of pressure to put on a youngster, pressure that Park, he said, struggled with early in his rookie season.
"Experience is one of the best things you can get. I had to go through it one time to learn how to relax and deal with the pressure," Park said. "I'm very relaxed now. I wasn't when I came to camp last August.
"I pressed too much and it affected my results. Once I learned to relax, stay loose and kick like I knew I could kick - with confidence - everything was fine. I got better as the season progressed after I won the starting job after a few games of backing up."
Rob's 2005 seasonal statistics were solid, but not as good as he wants.
In 2005, he punted 43 times for a 38.2 yard average. He had eight punts downed inside the 20 and had a long punt of 62 yards.
He believes he can improve measurably on those numbers.
"I have worked really hard on being more consistent and having a better hang time," Park added. "(Special Teams) Coach (Chris) Rippon said we achieved some of that in spring. I feel I have matured as a punter. I don't feel like a freshman any more, because I'm not and I have game experience. I know what to expect and how to handle that environment now.
"Punting is more mental than most people realize. It's a lot like a golf swing - if you are tight and not loose, you can't play golf or punt effectively. Once I slowed down and relaxed, I started feeling better about myself."
In the offseason, Rob - whose younger brother Michael will join the Rebel baseball team as a pitcher after his high school career as a talented pitcher and QB end at MUS - is working on the "little things."
"We do some strength work, but really flexibility is more important to punters and kickers. I'm working on my flexibility, my drop height, my steps, the little things," he explained. "Physcially, punting is all about flexibility, timing and solid contact. Mentally, it's about confidence and being relaxed and loose."
Rob also doubles as the all-important holder on field goals and extra points, a job he enjoys doing and did as a true frosh in 2005.
"I take pride in my holding. I work on holding every day," Park continued. "It's an important part of the kicking operation and I want to make sure to hold up my end of that package."
Park will be working with a new deep snapper this year since three-year starter Sidney McLaurin has now graduated, but the big question is 'who will it be?'
"Deep snapper is wide open right now," Rob said. "Coach Rippon told me the other day that we have four snappers coming here this month and we'll see who surfaces. We have to get that worked out, for sure, but I believe we will."
Rob probably had the "best seat in the house" to witness what was going on last season with sporadic placements. He believes steps have been taken to correct last year's 50% results in field goals.
"Placekicking is all about confidence and I don't think we developed that last year. We had a new coach, a new holder, new kickers and we really weren't on the same page as a unit," Rob added. "This year, we sat down as a group and decided we were going to become more of a group rather than a bunch of individuals kind of doing their own thing.
"We are now helping each other more and evaluating each other more. We are a closer-knit group and I think that will pay dividends in placekicking. We've got each other's back and have a good support system this year. Last year, we were together, but not tight enough."
Park looks forward to his role on the 2006 Rebel football team.
"I think I will be more productive my sophomore year for all the reasons we have talked about," he closed. "I'm looking forward to being on the field as a confident veteran rather than a shaky freshman. It will make a difference."