By Greg Archuleta
UNM Assistant Director of Communications
The weird part for the Lobos starting safety wasn’t being asked to punt during spring practice. The weird part was not being asked to punt last year.
As the University of New Mexico football team begins its search for a successor to 2013 All-Mountain West first-team punter Ben Skaer, one rather interesting candidate has emerged for the job in senior strong safety David Guthrie.
Most folks around University Stadium recognize the 5-foot-9, 208-pound senior from Tenmile, Ore., for his 65 tackles, five pass breakups and 4.5 tackles for loss on the Lobo defense in 2013.
Like most players entering their senior seasons, Guthrie sought to expand his role on the team. His approach, however, was a little more unconventional than that of your typical senior on defense.
“I was my team’s starting punter in high school and junior college, so this is nothing new to me,” Guthrie said. “I talked to (special teams coordinator Derek Warehime) about it before the season and decided to give it a shot. I didn’t think about doing it last year because we had Ben.”
Guthrie wasn’t a run-of-the-mill punter, either. He was a first-team All-Mid Empire selection at punter in 2012 with a 37.6-yard average. Guthrie also earned second-team All-State punting honors as a senior for Douglas High School.
He said he learned a few things from former NFL punter Josh Bidwell, who also graduated from Douglas High School and frequently returned to his high school alma mater.
“I was able to talk to him a lot about it and ask for tips,” Guthrie said. “And I still have his phone number, so we talk from time to time.”
Guthrie is obviously at a disadvantage during spring drills against junior Zack Rogers and sophomore Sam Gentry, the other punters on the roster. When special teams periods end during spring ball, Rogers and Gentry go off on their own to continue working on their craft.
Guthrie, however, has to go back on defense and gets precious few opportunities to practice his punting during the allotted time in practice.
Still, he has been impressive in the limited amount of work he put in. He routinely exceeds 50 yards per punt but knows he has yet to master the nuances of the job. Skaer has been working with the punters and kickers in the spring to help with their production.
“Ben has helped me a lot. There’s a lot of things you have to remember when you’re punting,” Guthrie said. “You have to point your hips in the right direction to get the ball where you want it to go. You have to have consistent footwork.
“I feel like my leg has gotten so much stronger being in the weight room with coach (Ben) Hilgart. I’m trying to trade distance for height a little bit so I can control where the ball goes a little better. I’m trying to average 40- to 50-yard punts with a hang time of 4.5 seconds. “
The other part of the equation is the timing of the punt – from the snap to the punt. Guthrie said he’s averaging about 2.1 seconds to get each punt away, which is within the acceptable time that the Lobos have set for their punters to get the ball away.
UNM has a scholarship kicker/punter arriving in the fall in true freshman Jason Sanders, who will add to the competition. But the Lobos would love to avoid having to put so much responsibility on the true freshman’s plate when he arrives on campus.
Which is part of Guthrie’s motivation.
“It’d obviously mean a lot to me if I were able to win the punting job,” Guthrie said. “But really, all I want to do is help the team win in any way I can. Hopefully, the offense won’t need a punter much next year, but I’m trying to make myself an option if they need me.”
PRACTICE NOTE: Coach Bob Davie called Saturday’s practice the most energetic and physical practice he’s had during his time at UNM.
He lauded the team’s enthusiasm during the two hours on Branch Field and noted that the defense looked as good as he’s seen it look.
“We talk about wanting a player-driven team,” he said. “I think we’re starting to see some maturity come out of our guys, especially on defense.”