- Kevin Gemmell, ESPN Staff Writer
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We at the Pac-12 blog don't discriminate. Which is why we felt compelled to get a special teams player in one of the Friday Q&As. And who better than Arizona State punter Josh Hubner, who is second in the nation with 47.4 yards per kick? Coach Todd Graham calls him "without a doubt" the best punter the country, and he was recently named a semifinalist for the Ray Guy Award. He was kind enough to rest his leg for a few minutes and chat with the Pac-12 blog.
I know you were a quarterback, a wide receiver, a tight end, a punter and a defensive end in high school. How did you settle on being a punter in college?
Josh Hubner: It was just as much of a shock to me as it was everybody else. I came out of high school and had originally signed up for the Army. That fell through. So I picked up with Scottsdale Community College literally three weeks before the season started. I sat down with the coach and he knew I was an all-state punter coming out of high school and he said he wanted me to punt and work with the tight ends. I worked with them for about 15 minutes and then it was established that all I was going to do was punt. It became something I poured my heart and soul into.
Pretty thankless job, though. Right?
JH: Yeah. But that's alright. I'm used to it and I'm accustomed to it. You jog out there understanding that your offense didn't get it going, so you do what you can to put your defense in a good position.
What's the feeling for a punter when you stick a ball inside the 10? Is it comparable to a sack or scoring a touchdown?
JH: Thinking back to high school, I don't think there is any better feeling than scoring a touchdown or sacking the quarterback 10 yards behind the line. But it's definitely a pretty invigorating feeling. A lot of the guys will look at me like I'm crazy because I'm running off the field all fired up because I put the ball inside the 3-yard line. I know in my head, I'm thinking now we can get a safety and I can be directly responsible for that. Or you kick it 65 yards and they muff the punt. All of those things fire you up. Guys like Will Sutton look at me like, 'you're crazy, but whatever you're doing, you're doing well.' It's always cool. The guys are cool about it.
You're in the hunt for the Ray Guy Award. What would that mean to you?
JH: That's big. I would have never imagined. It's an honor. He's somebody I idolized for a long time. I actually went to a couple of his camps and I actually got a chance to work with him personally a few years back. I don't think I actually realized who I was standing next to at that point. Now we're here. It's almost overwhelming, and it leaves me at a loss for words. I can't believe I'm where I'm at.
Do you miss hitting? Do you ever go out of your way to get out there and drop the shoulder a few times?
JH: I'm sure if you ask [safety Alden] Darby or any of those guys about me, they'll tell you. In spring ball we do this thing called "The W Drill" and they would always have the walk-ons run the ball. It's like a trench drill. I'd be the first guy to jump in there and grab the football and relive the glory days. But the more and more my tenure at Arizona State comes to a close, I'm starting to realize I'm just a punter and I probably need to preserve my health and my leg. But I also think I'm always going to be that way. I'm always going to be high strung and wired and wanting to get in on the action.
Looking at the team in the big picture, you had the hot start and now you're in another losing streak, not unlike last year. Can you tell a difference between the mentalities of last year's team and this year's at this point?
JH: Absolutely. It's 180 degrees. Guys are still playing for the team and the coaching staff and the fans. Guys are confident. They still have that hunger about them. Now it's mixed with a little bit of that disappointing feeling when you know you have all of the talent in the world to do what you know you can do, and you end up beating yourself. It comes down to whether you want it, and these guys want it. We want to be bowl eligible. We want to beat UofA. All of those things are big. We want the seniors to go out with a bang. This will be my last game at Sun Devil Stadium. I would say the mentality is much more positive than you'd think. We're still trying to get better, and that's all you can do.
Can we assume the NFL is next for you?
JH: Yeah, hopefully. A lot of that is something I'm trying to do my best to keep on the backburner. But it comes at you real quick. It's something I'm focused on, but it's not going to take away from what I'm doing here. We want to finish big. Hopefully I'm not on the field too much at the end of the season. But it's something I'd like to give a shot in the future.
You're 6-4, 238. Do you ever give coach [Todd] Graham a little elbow in the ribs and say 'come on, let me fake one. Let me run one.'
JH: Let me run the ball. Haha. If we're running a fake, I'm not throwing. I'm going to keep it. I'm going to run it. Send a couple big 280-pound guys like Will Sutton out on the end to seal a block and I'm taking it to the house or running over that 180-pound returner that wants to tackle me high. I wish. But as a punter, you understand you're down to do whatever for the team. Whatever the team needs, I'm out there and I'm doing it. Right now, that's punting the ball, so I'll stick with that.