Virginia Tech Coach Frank Beamer declared the race to become the Hokies next punter “wide open” after Wednesday’s mini-scrimmage. And to the surprise of many, the list of candidates now includes starting wide receiver Danny Coale.
Coale -- who kicked field goals, handled kickoffs and punted at Episcopal High in Alexandria -- said he approached defensive coordinator Bud Foster a couple of weeks ago and asked if he could try punting this spring. Foster recruited Coale out of high school, and helps with the punters during practice.
“I was expecting him to laugh, but he didn’t,”Coale said Wednesday evening.
“I was kind of thinking to myself there wasn’t a set punter. There had been in the past,” he added. “Punting is something I love; I’ve been doing it since I was little. My Dad taught me how to do it. Once I kind of realized there was an opportunity, I wanted to try it. I wanted to give it a shot. It’s been a lot of fun, so hopefully I’ll be able to do it.”
Coale is a three-year starter at wide receiver who finished with a career-high 39 catches for 732 yards a year ago. He was particularly effective in the ACC championship game against Florida State (6 catches, 143 yards, 1 TD) and in the Orange Bowl loss to Stanford (7 catches, 92 yards).
He’s facing a major challenge this spring from redshirt junior Marcus Davis, who is now tied atop the depth chart with Coale, according to wide receivers coach Kevin Sherman. Coale and Sherman both said Wednesday, though, that his new punting responsibilities have not curtailed his work at wide receiver much.
Whether Coale has a legitimate shot at winning the punting job is still open to debate.
“He’s got a ways to go,” Beamer said. “Right now, if we don’t execute better and more consistently, we gotta go with the guy that’s been out there and been in the battles.”
During last Saturday’s scrimmage and the open portion of Wednesday’s practice session, Coale looked to have equal hang time and distance on his punts when compared to the four other candidates competing for the starting job this fall.
Redshirt freshman Ethan Keyserling, redshirt freshman Conor Goulding, redshirt junior Scott Demier, and redshirt sophomore Grant Bowden are the four others seeking the job.
He did not punt during Wednesday’s mini-scrimmage, but could get an opportunity Friday night when the Hokies take the field for another full scrimmage at Lane Stadium.
When asked if he’s more a power punter or a directional punter, Coale said right now he’s simply “erratic.”
“In high school I didn’t really kick it towards a direction, so I kind of had to get used to kicking it a certain direction,” he said. “I go out there and punt before practice and if I get a few good ones, I’m happy. I’ll work on it over the summer.”
Perhaps his biggest challenge, though, has been convincing his teammates that he’s sincere about his desire to punt.
“Everyone asks me if I’m serious,” Coale said with a laugh. “I don’t know what I need to do, whether it’s getting a punting shoe, to know I’m serious. Maybe I need a one bar across the front of my helmet.”