By Brad Locke/NEMS Daily Journal
STARKVILLE – Punters tend to be judged by brute leg strength these days, which might explain why Baker Swedenburg doesn’t draw much regional or national attention.
The Mississippi State punter averages 40.8 yards per punt, which ranks 12th in the SEC and is well behind leader Kyle Christy of Florida, who’s averaging 46.1 yards.
But MSU ranks first in the country in punt coverage, with teams totaling 8 yards on 12 returns, an average of 0.67 yards. Swedenburg is a big reason for that because of his consistency and an ability to put the ball where it needs to go.
Of his 52 punts this season, 30 have resulted in a fair catch, and 18 have been downed inside the 20-yard line.
“You’ve got Darius Slay and Jamerson Love, the two fastest guys on the team,” Swedenburg said. “As long as I put it in the right spot, I don’t even have to hit it good. They’ll be down there in no time, and they make me look very good.”
Swedenburg has a long punt of 54 yards this season, and his career long is 58 yards. He doesn’t have that booming leg, but he doesn’t need it to be effective.
“Our coverage units are usually right where they need to be because the ball is right where they need to be,” head coach Dan Mullen said. “I guess good-and-bad, he doesn’t outkick his coverage a whole lot, but he doesn’t underkick his coverage much, either.
“He just kind of kicks to his coverage and our guys, (and) that consistency has helped him a lot.”
Swedenburg tries to model himself after Ray Guy, the former Southern Miss and NFL punter after whom an award has been named. Swedenburg was on the award’s watch list earlier this season but didn’t make the semifinalist cut.
He used to attend Guy’s camps in Hattiesburg while in high school, and Swedenburg noted that Guy didn’t have a huge leg, either, averaging 42.4 yards during his 14-year NFL career.
Swedenburg said punting is more of an art form than most people realize.
“A lot of people think you just catch it and kick it and hope for the best,” he said. “You can break it down. I wave my arms, that’s just to get me to relax and stay loose. Then I take a little jab step, and then two steps, and then I have to make sure the drop’s right and my leg swing is good.
“It’s down to a science.”
Swedenburg said the drop is “probably 90 percent of it all,” noting that one of his few poor punts this season – a 16-yarder against Kentucky – was due to a bad drop. Normally, it’s something he’s very good at, because he’s been practicing it for years, and it’s something Guy emphasized with him.
“I remember in high school I’d walk around the house and just make sure my drop was right, bounce it up for like an hour,” Swedenburg said. “It annoyed my parents really bad.”
But it’s paid off, whether the award-givers recognize it or not.