A friend from my newspaper days once wrote a column in which he imagined himself as the new football czar. His first order of business — well, second, after condemning the Bengals’ uniforms — was to outlaw all kicking from the sport. No placekicking, except for kickoffs. No punts.
Hmm; what would football be like without the foot? A high school coach in Little Rock, Arkansas is putting that question to the test, and as we see in the photo above, he’s getting pretty good results. The Pulaski Academy Bruins have not punted in a game in more than two years.
But here’s some further oddness: Head coach Kevin Kelley also directs his team to onside kick on every kickoff. And he rarely attempts field goals. Pulaski fans, at first horrified by the coach’s philosophy, have come to call their game nights Fearless Fridays. And after last season’s 13-1 overall record and Southwest League and State Div. 5A titles, how can one argue with what they’re doing?
“The average punt in high school nets you 30 yards, but we convert around half our fourth downs, so it doesn’t make sense to give up the ball,” Kelley says. “Besides, if your offense knows it has four downs instead of three, it totally changes the game. I don’t believe in punting and really can’t ever see doing it again.”
He means ever. Consider the most extreme scenario, say, fourth-and-long near your own end zone. According to Kelley’s data (much of which came from a documentary he saw), when a team punts from that deep, the opponents will take possession inside the 40-yard line and will then score a touchdown 77% of the time. If they recover on downs inside the 10, they’ll score a touchdown 92% of the time. “So [forsaking] a punt, you give your offense a chance to stay on the field. And if you miss, the odds of the other team scoring only increase 15 percent. It’s like someone said, ‘[Punting] is what you do on fourth down,’ and everyone did it without asking why.”
Pulaski is at it again this season, averaging just more than 32 points a game with a 2-1 record. Kelley’s aversion to punting has forced him to be a lot more creative with the playbook, opening up the offense to include more passing, end-around plays and other things to keep the defense guessing.
Like the California prep coaches who invented the A-11 offense, it’s another example of setting convention on its keister and proving that a conservative approach to the game is not the only approach.
Would such a tactic work in Div. I college or the NFL? My first reaction would be no; kickers are too good at the upper levels. When you have a guy like the 49ers’ Andy Lee who can deliver 60-yard punts with regularity, you’d be foolhardy not to use that tool. But Kelley’s tactics seem logical for high school; at any rate, I’m intrigued with his ideas and would like to subscribe to his newsletter.