The Wolverine

November 2018

The Wolverine: Covering University of Michigan Football and Sports

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Page 28 of 83

NOVEMBER 2018 THE WOLVERINE 29 It didn't take long for redshirt sophomore punter Will Hart to go from backup to record setter for the Wolverines. Four games into the 2018 season, to be exact. Hart began 2017 as Michigan's starting punter, but gave way after four games to true freshman Brad Robbins for the remain- der of the season. Hart resumed the starting duties this season following Robbins' back issues and hasn't looked back. In the Big Ten opener against Nebraska, Hart averaged an unheard-of 59.3 yards per punt, unprecedented in Michigan football history for a single game. Here's a look at the all-time top five days for a U-M punter: U-M Highest Average Per Punt (Game, Minimum Three Punts) Rk. Player Avg. Opponent, Date 1. Will Hart 59.3 Nebraska, Sept. 22, 2018 2. Don Bracken 56.3 Northwestern, Oct. 24, 1981 3. Zoltan Mesko 53.8 at Iowa, Oct. 10, 2009 4. Darrell Harper 53.3 Oregon State, Oct. 10, 1959 5. Monte Robbins 52.3 at Michigan State, Oct. 10, 1987 Hart punted three times against the Cornhuskers, all of them traveling more than 50 yards, with a long of 64. They definitely flipped field position, two of them being downed inside Ne- braska's 20-yard line. Hart's more than a one-day wonder, however. He's hovering near the top of the national rankings for punting distance, his 51.0 average through seven games would rank second nation- ally if he had enough attempts to qualify. Hart could wind up enjoying the best season ever by a Michi- gan punter. Here's a look at the top 10 punting averages by a Wolverine down through the years: U-M Highest Average Per Punt (Season, Minimum 30 Punts) Rk. Player Avg. Season 1. Will Hagerup 45.03 2012 2. Zoltan Mesko 44.46 2009 3. Will Hagerup 43.64 2010 4. Monte Robbins 43.63 1984 5. Monte Robbins 43.62 1986 6. Monte Robbins 43.51 1987 7. Don Bracken 43.34 1981 8. Kenny Allen 43.33 2016 9. Adam Finley 43.00 2004 10. Zoltan Mesko 42.95 2008 Monte Robbins (1984-87) holds the career record for punt- ing average, at 42.8. He's followed by Zoltan Mesko (42.5), Will Hagerup (42.1), Adam Finley (41.9) and Don Bracken (40.8). The way Hart punted the first half of the 2018 season, any and all records could come into play; his current career clip sits at 45.8. Nobody cheers when their team's punter trots onto the field. He's the one they don't want to see — nothing personal. But when it has to happen for the Wolverines, fans have warmed to idea of watching Hart pump some life into the football and into change of possessions. — John Borton some big changes in his physical ap- proach to the game between last year and this. "He just kind of all around got a lot stronger in the offseason," Par- tridge said. "He got more flexible. He's learning who he is and his drop angles, things like that. He's learning how to adapt to windy conditions and directional punting. "Just a whole gambit of things are clicking for him right now." AN ONGOING STRENGTH In other words, there has been a mix of good and good, regarding Michi- gan special teams. Like Harbaugh noted, the Wolverines have managed to be consistent, while also delivering some head-turners that can make the difference in a game. Collins insisted that's no accident. "Coach Partridge, he does a great job with special teams," Collins said. "We really focus on special teams a lot. We really take that seriously." Harbaugh relates everything back to hard work, and he sees it in his special teams results. Peoples-Jones is a prime example of how consistent effort shows up in the bottom line, ac- cording to the head coach. "I've talked about how much work the guys have put in and how it's paying off," Harbaugh said. "He's a prime example. He's working, pay- ing attention in meetings. You can't ask for a better guy to coach — a true gentleman. "Along the same lines as [junior de- fensive end] Rashan [Gary]. He takes that same approach. His blocking has really been physical. He's setting a great example and doing a fabulous job." He's enjoyed more than a little com- pany in that respect among special teams members, entering the meat of Michigan's schedule. This is where the Wolverines hope the work really pays off. ❏ Miles And Miles And Miles Of Hart Through seven games, sophomore punter Will Hart has averaged 51.0 yards on 20 attempts. PHOTO BY PER KJELDSEN

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