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Ohio punter Paul Hershey (left) and kicker Matt Weller pose for a picture at Peden Stadium yesterday. Hershey and Weller are focal points of Ohio’s special teams unit, one of the team’s stronger areas for the past few years. (Alex Goodlett | STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER)

Football: Players filter fancy feet, handy moves into game

The phrase “good hands” can mean multiple things within the context of football. Some draw the image of the good-hands team, which is responsible for recovering onside kicks. The more commercially minded will recall the Allstate-sponsored net that catches field goals at the west end of Peden Stadium.

Bobcat fans might associate place kicker Matt Weller with both images, but another, unlikely good-hands player also takes part in onside kick and field goal situations — punter Paul Hershey.

Weller and Hershey primarily use their right feet to gain points and field position for Ohio, but it is the little things that often make an equally significant impact when the players are on the field together.

Weller and Hershey bring athletic talent to their respective positions. Weller’s years playing fútbol helped him develop a knack for splitting the uprights.

“I played soccer up until about seventh grade and then switched to football,” he said. “Kicking was just meant to be.”

Hershey’s hands took center stage before his feet, but both help him in his current roles.

“I started off playing receiver and then I jumped around, did all the scout teams,” Hershey said. “They realized I could make plays, and they gave me a shot to be a punter. They really liked me being able to hold, too, so they didn’t have to put a quarterback down there.”

Weller has led Ohio in scoring his first two years in action. As a redshirt freshman two years ago, he set the program record for most field goals in a season with 21 conversions on 29 attempts. His 95 points in 2009 stand as the fifth-best single-season scoring total in school history. He followed up his All-American performance with a team-leading 73 points in 2010. Entering his junior year, Weller is seventh on Ohio’s all-time scoring list, 61 points behind Kevin Kerr for the most points by a kicker and six field goals for the most career gridiron 3-pointers in Bobcat history.

“All the little stuff is cool at the end of the day, but coming into gameday, you’ve just got to take it one kick at a time,” he said. “When you start thinking about things off the field or anything other than the kick at-hand is when things can go wrong.”

Weller’s job relies largely on Hershey’s performance in several ways. His punts play a role in the field position battle and, resultantly, the number of tries Weller will get in a game.

A redshirt senior from Fremont, Ohio, Hershey played his first season as the full-time punter in 2010. His average punt of 41 yards was second best in the Mid-American Conference, and Ohio’s net punting average was tops in the MAC and eighth best among Football Bowl Subdivision schools.

Ohio often employs a rugby-style punt, in which Hershey rolls toward the sideline before kicking the pigskin. If there is enough open real estate, he takes off for the first down.

“I hold onto the ball longer, so the coverage has more time to get down the field,” he said. “That gives the returner less space to catch the ball.”

Hershey’s athleticism helps the Bobcats keep their options open on fourth down. Coach Frank Solich said his ability to throw and run gives the team a leg up on many teams with less versatile punters.

“A lot of times, you’ll find that there are punters out there that just develop a skill, that are not necessarily all that athletic, but they can take three steps and swing their leg well and punt the ball pretty well,” Solich said. “When you have a real athlete back there, it’s such a huge dimension in terms of what you can do with them.”

Hershey also holds the ball during field goal and extra-point attempts, thus making him an integral part of Weller’s success. Hershey said practicing the hold has been difficult during spring practice because long snapper Jeremy LaVoie  will not return until the summer due to an injury.

Weller said he has confidence Hershey will get the ball placed well with the laces outward every time.

“I’m pretty much just looking at the spot, and I trust Hersh, that he’s going to get it down so there’s no hesitation or anything like that,” Weller said. “It’s really a matter of trust more than anything.”

The pair also works together on the good hands team. Hershey tries to field Weller’s onside kick attempts alongside receivers and members of Ohio’s secondary.

“When I was just receiver, they saw that I could really catch, really wanted the ball, that I could go up and get it,” Hershey said.

The bulk of their play is on fourth down. All of their reps come with the long snapper. And when they use their feet, Ohio is in good hands.



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