Punter Paul Randall Soden averaged 45.4 yards on seven punts Saturday, landing five of those punts inside Alcorn State’s 20-yard line.
That was his best average of the season, and most improved performance since being replaced during Southern’s loss to Northwestern State two weeks before.
The sophomore has been starting punter since his freshman season. But after he let go of a 15-yard punt in the first quarter against the Devils and allowed the Northwestern State offense to start its possession at the Southern 31-yard line, Murphy Nash III replaced him.
“That was the first two snaps I didn’t take as a starting punter for the first time in more than three years,” Soden said. “It hit me. It made me realize, I’m getting out-performed right now, so I need to get back on what I know what do and do what I know what to do.”
Soden has gradually returned to the level he was pre-Northwestern State. He averaged 38.3 yards per punt at Prairie View before the solid performance at Alcorn State.
Some of his bad habits while punting, he said, come from his years of playing soccer. He had to learn to adjust to the differences in punting an oddly shaped football and the soccer ball he was used to kicking.
“With soccer, it’s just a round ball. It doesn’t matter where you hit it,” he said. “But with football, everything has to be just perfect. My main thing is I slice and bring my leg up across my body, and it needs to go straight up.”
Special teams coordinator Marty Biagi said the sport that best correlates with teaching punting and kicking is golf, a sport in which Soden has an interest. Biagi said in golf and punting, the specialist should keep his head still and his body on balance.
Other problems that plague punters can be a bad swing, steps that are too long or dropping their leg too soon. Soden said the simplicity of punting is misleading from the outside looking in and the importance of the task is more than what most people see.
“There’s so much (chance) for error in a little process,” he said. “If you ask our coaches, biggest play in the game consistently is punting. It’s a big play. There are a lot of things that go into it that you just don’t think about.”
The Georgia native and current sophomore began playing football at 17, when he switched to public school because his private school did not offer football. He said his desire to play came from the love of the game.
“I love watching the game,” Soden said. “I’d played soccer my whole life so, I decided to see if I could go kick. I tried that, and it worked well.”
Soden and the special teams members usually arrive to the practice field. He said going forward he’s focusing on succeeding in practice so he can compete well in the game. A big focus of his is not overthinking during the game.
“It’s all mental,” Soden said. “I’m just working on getting my mind right so I could be consistent in the games and perform how I need to perform. I punt the best when I block everything out of my mind.”