Standing 6-foot-3 with an athletic frame, Springfield College sophomore Whit DeVaux fits the profile of a college football player. He’s got the size, speed, athleticism and skills to be an impact player on any given football field.
But as you watch the Pride march down the field on offense, you won’t see DeVaux’s No. 84 on the field, but rather on the sideline. No, he’s not injured or held out of the game for various reasons – he’s dropping a football to himself and drop kicking it into a small net, just yards away from the team bench.
DeVaux is the starting punter for the Pride, not necessarily by choice or design either. A Wethersfield, Connecticut native, the Springfield punter was recruited as a quarterback out of high school. Just three days before his first pre-season camp, DeVaux was told he’d be transitioning to wide receiver.
That didn’t last long either.
“Maybe two weeks into camp they asked if anyone could punt,” Whit explained. “And I said yeah.”
He wasn’t just lying to find his way onto the field either, DeVaux spent his four years playing high school as his team’s punters, among other positions.
“As a freshman, you really just do whatever, or take any opportunities you can to get on the bus,” DeVaux said. “That’s the main objective.”
The life of a punter is very much unlike that of a player on offense or defense. Instead of running routes or diving into pads, DeVaux practices his kicks – sometimes over 30-40 punts per practice. This comes with plenty of wear and tear.
“Really it’s all in my hamstrings, lower back and plant leg,” DeVaux explained. “There’s a huge difference going out when it’s cold out too. Warming up is a huge part. I want to say I get at least a half hour of stretching up my hamstrings before practice. In the cold, sometimes it’s up to 45 minutes.”
While he may only see action four-to-five times per game, DeVaux doesn’t take his job lightly. When the offense fails, he’s the team’s last resort to salvage something on their poor drive.
“It’s really important just to help my defense out and give the other team long field position,” DeVaux said. “I guess it gives the defense a mental edge if I pin it within the five. It comes full circle back to the offense; if I have a great punt, the defense goes in amped and gets a good stop, and then [Joe] Festo can return the punt and put the offense in a good spot.”
DeVaux added that the two most important people to him when punting are his personal protector Dom Traversa, and long snapper Jared Rivera.
Punting isn’t always a smooth job.. It’s usually a job seen in a fourth-and-long position, and the opposing special team’s defense is hungry to block the kick or force a turnover. Both the long snapper, blockers and punter have to be on the same page.
“I’ve had a couple [snaps] that have gone like six feet over my head,” DeVaux said. “It almost comes down to the blocking. There haven’t been that many plays where I’ve had to roll out, or do anything crazy. Usually what’s going through my mind is ‘get this ball off as fast as I can’, and then make it a good kick comes second.”
DeVaux continued by saying that there’s no worse feeling than coming back to the sideline after a bad punt, letting down the defense and feeling as if he messed up his one job.
A quarterback by trade, DeVaux has already seen two positional changes in his college career which is just over a year old, but he’s yet to step down from a challenge.
“Did I think I’d ever be telling people I was the starting punter at Springfield?” DeVaux asked rhetorically. “Not a shot. Do I wish I played any other positions? Yeah, but you take what you can get.