Maturing Kick By Kick

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It would have been completely understandable had Kyle Martens surrendered to the awe last season. Given the immediacy with which he was asked to step in and contribute as the Owls' starting punter and the adjustment he was forced to make transitioning from Spearfish, S.D. (Population: 8,606) to Houston (Population: 5,728,143), few could have justifiably blamed Martens had he folded his tent when everything in his foreign world started to spin about him.

But the erratic performances on the field and the fast-paced existence off it failed to rattle Martens then, and even now he has an appreciation for being thrown into the fire of living life in a unique environment while playing Division I football in a state where the sport is a religion.

"It was quite a change, to be honest," Martens said. "In South Dakota they take their football seriously, but nothing like down here. The college level was just another step above that.

"The environment was different, the way I thought had to be changed, and there were a lot of things I had to step up. But that first year really helped me. Playing, you've got to get those jitters out. Coming in here (now as a sophomore), I know what it's like. Mentally I know what to do and physically I know I'm prepared for it. Really, that first year I think it helped me out a lot.

"Thinking about redshirting, I don't think that would have been the best decision for me because I'd come in right now and this would still be my first year punting. I still wouldn't know what it's like to be out there on the field. So, I really think starting that first year helped."

Martens arrived with a sterling reputation as a punter with significant leg strength and the ability to drastically impact field position. However, it took two months before Martens settled in. Inconsistency marred Martens' initial efforts, and it wasn't until the final four games of the season that he began to showcase the powerful right foot that led to his signing and insertion into the starting lineup. And Martens didn't rest on the laurels of experience when the offseason began for he committed himself not only to getting stronger, but to honing his skills.

A clear beneficiary of the Owls' rigorous summer conditioning program, Martens opened fall camp weighing 200 pounds, 10 pounds heavier than the 190 he had stretched over his 6-6 frame in 2008. And when he checked in earlier this month, Martens was fresh off participating in two specialty kicking camps designed to advance his technical skills and punting prowess.

One week prior to the fall camp, Martens worked with Chris Sailer in Dallas. Martens has been tutored by Sailer, whom he discovered through mutual relationships, since the summer prior to his junior year in high school. In late July, Martens attended a kicking clinic co-hosted by Texans kicker Kris Brown and former 49ers kicker Bill Lafleur, who also played at Nebraska. Martens attended several football camps at Nebraska and was recruited by the Cornhuskers.
"You can always learn. You can always get better," Martens said. "Chris Sailer is the No. 1 guy I go to. I'm always sending him film, always talking to him and asking for him advice. And I figured if I get that one-on-one work with him and go to a camp, that would make me better because every time I'm there you get in that attitude of being a kicker. You're in that environment - it's all kickers. You work together, and Chris is telling you how to do things."

And the lasting result of so much personal instruction?

"It boosted (my confidence) a lot - a lot," Martens said. "The first practice of two-a-days I didn't have any jitters. I was ready to go."

Owls coach David Bailiff took notice when Martens boomed several punts to open the initial workout of camp, confidently implying Martens would improve upon his 38.3-yard average as a freshman. Days later Martens was lost to tonsillitis, but he returned this week ready to pick up where he left off - poised to prove how much he developed in his first college offseason.

"It makes me feel good to know that everything is coming together," Martens said. "With the first game (at UAB on Sept. 5) being on TV, everyone back home gets to watch me. I get to make my family proud. They're probably going to have a little party and show the game.

"All my friends are always telling me how awesome it is to see someone that they grew up with on TV playing (football). I'm really glad I can do this for my family and make them proud."

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The training he goes through sounds a lot like a swing coach in golf. If this team is going to lean on defense and special teams while the offense finds itself, punting will be very important.

How are the kickers looking? Is Boswell pushing for place kicking duties, or is that pretty much Fang's?

Nice tweet about Ross taking a KO back. That would certainly be one way to increase his time on the field..

At Ease: It appears that Fangmeier and Boswell will split kicking duties, with Boswell handling the longer field goals (40-plus yards) and kickoffs. Fangmeier has looked good, however, and seems quite capable of extending his range beyond last season when he was limited due to his hip injury. I'd imagine that Boswell has a short leash with regards to field goals because of Fangs' wealth of experience. - MK

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