There are plenty of intriguing battles that will bear watching when Virginia Tech takes the field for its first open scrimmage of training camp Saturday afternoon at Lane Stadium, whether it be at whip linebacker, defensive tackle, running back or along the offensive line.
But no competition could have more bearing on the season than the one underway between Virginia Tech’s punters. The Hokies were miserable in that department a year ago, never settling on one punter until wide receiver Danny Coale took over the job at the end of the season. They finished ranked 114th in the country in yards per punt (36.7).
Three candidates, including the past two All-Met kickers, have emerged as the favorites to win the spot this time around. We caught up with all of them during Virginia Tech’s annual media day last weekend and got their thoughts on the competition.
Freshman Hunter Windmuller, 2011 All-Met kicker from Flint Hill
Notable: Windmuller spent two years of middle school living in Austria, where he became an avid soccer player. When he returned to the United States for high school, he picked up football and was a three-year starter at place kicker and punter for Flint Hill. The switch seems like a good idea considering Windmuller averaged 47.1 yards per punt last year and is currently atop Virginia Tech’s punter depth chart.
What’s his biggest strength: “I have a lot of hang time on my balls. That’s one thing I pride myself on and Coach Beamer said he loves hang time so I try to kick the ball up so they can’t return it.”
Freshman A.J. Hughes of Terre Haute, Ind.
Notable: Mainly a wide receiver in high school, Hughes only picked up punting after former NFL punter Steve Weatherford noticed him at a camp last summer. From there, Hughes went to a national recruiting camp for punters and ended up ranked No. 11 in the country.
How does he stand out: “I’m a left-handed punter and it puts a different spin on the ball. I had a lot of muffed punts, turnovers for touchdowns. I don’t have the biggest leg, but I’m a consistent punter. That’s what Coach Beamer says he’s looking for and that’s what I bring to the table.”
Sophomore Michael Branthover, 2010 All-Met kicker from DeMatha
Notable: Branthover registered the second-longest punt in Virginia Tech when he boomed one 75 yards at Duke last October, but consistency was an issue throughout the season. Branthover is the lone holdover from 2011 since opening day punter Scott Demler won’t be part of Virginia Tech’s 105-man roster this year.
What went wrong last year: “I think last year I was just taking everything all in and I think I was just too nervous and just need to relax, go back to the basics, how I know to do it.”