After a disappointing 0-2 start to the season, there are not a lot of topics that University of Memphis football coach Justin Fuente can embrace without qualifiers and caveats. But senior punter Tom Hornsey is one.
University of Memphis punter Tom Hornsey was named the Ray Guy Award Player of the Week for his performance last Saturday in the Tigers' 17-15 loss at Middle Tennessee State.
“He’s as versatile a punter as I’ve ever seen,” Fuente said. “He’s a real competitive guy. He’s a football player that punts.”
For those unaware: It’s not every day that a coach calls his punter a football player.
“I’m pretty honored for that one,” said Hornsey, who hails from Geelong, Victoria, Australia.
Speaking of honors, Hornsey was named the Ray Guy Award Player of the Week for his performance last Saturday in the Tigers’ 17-15 loss at Middle Tennessee State. Hornsey averaged 49.6 yards on five punts and two of his kicks were downed inside the 20-yard line.
On the young season, Hornsey is averaging 47.3 yards – good for fifth nationally. His 79-yard punt against Duke is the longest by an FBS player this season. Six of his 12 punts have been downed inside the 20, and three of those inside the 10.
“He’s definitely done a good job in the red zone,” Fuente said.
The Memphis coach doesn’t pretend to know all there is to know about Hornsey’s craft, but he is fascinated by the way Hornsey adapts to situations. Like when he punts in the red zone, he kicks the ball nose-down.
In Australia, Hornsey played Australian Rules Football. So besides the kicking, “There’s tackling and hand skills,” said Hornsey, who last year had a 27-yard run for a first down and a 61-yard pass completion for a first down.
He says when he has plenty of room to kick he is looking to “drop the ball flat. When it spirals, it travels farther,” Hornsey said. When he’s closer to the other team’s end zone but wanting to avoid a touchback, he goes to more of the “pooch-kick” style designed for stick landings, where the ball barely spins forward and sits, or hits the ground and then reverses direction because of backspin.
“It’s similar to a pitching wedge,” he said.
Hornsey, who averaged 42.6 yards through his first three years in Memphis with 55 of his 235 kicks going 50 or more yards, has aspirations to punt in the NFL. Other Australians have made the leap, including a punter named Ben Graham, who also is from Geelong, and who played for three NFL teams in eight seasons. Before coming to the U of M, Hornsey says he practiced exclusively with NFL footballs and actually likes punting those better than the skinnier-in-the-middle college ball.
“The pro ball has a bigger sweet spot, allows for more hang time,” he said. “The college ball is more aerodynamic, travels lower and faster. I do feel I can punt there.”
For now, however, Justin Fuente is thrilled to have football player Tom Hornsey punting here.