Upon first glance, Boise State redshirt freshman Joel Velazquez looks nothing like a kicker. Or a punter.
But this season, the Broncos are likely to have the 6-foot, 228-pounder handle double duty at both key special teams positions.
Until his junior year at Trabuco Hills High in Mission Viejo, Calif., Velazquez played linebacker and fullback. He then decided to focus on using his size to create some serious boom on his kicks.
“He’s a big, strong guy,” special teams coordinator Kent Riddle said. “... It doesn’t wear on him like other guys. But we’re mindful of that. We’re not going to overdo it with him.”
With kicker Tyler Rausa and punter Sean Wale graduated, Boise State has vacancies, but Velazquez was recruited for his potential to handle both. He hit all 35 extra-point attempts as a high school senior, made 6-of-9 field goals and sent 41-of-54 kickoffs for touchbacks.
“He’s a tremendous talent ... he was just as good as the guys as we had doing it, now it’s a matter of putting it together on game day,” Riddle said. “If we’d had to use him at one of those two spots last year, he’d have been pretty good.”
Rausa made 9-of-13 field goals last season, while Wale was steadily reliable with a 45.0-yard average. Velazquez said working on the two kicking disciplines over the past year has prepared him.
“I guess the biggest challenge on field goals and kickoffs, your legs are around and punting, everything is a straight line, so being able to separate those can be a little bit difficult, but I’ve been doing it for a while,” Velazquez said. “... my leg feels good, it feels in shape.”
Riddle said the usage is always something coaches are mindful of, but added he’s “not worried about it.” It is not common for players to handle both duties, but some have thrived at both, like Idaho’s Austin Rehkow the last four years, or Hawaii’s Rigoberto Sanchez last year. In 2008 and 2009, Kyle Brotzman handled both a majority of the time for Boise State.
“I’m confident he can do both,” Boise State coach Bryan Harsin said. “That’s a major challenge ... (And) a major bonus for us. He accepts it. He has a good mindset. You like him because he’s competitive.”
The Broncos feel good about the physical part of kicking and punting in Velazquez. Not every day has been perfect, but Riddle said he’s been mostly consistent. The mental part, it’s always an unknown, but Riddle is impressed by his approach.
“The best thing I’ve seen from him, when something’s not gone according to plan, he’s bounced back. It hasn’t steamrolled and become a problem,” Riddle said. “... Walks over to the sideline, fixes it, makes the next one, bombs the next punt, whatever.
“He’s not a guy that reacts to pressure a whole bunch.”
Sure, kickers and punters are supposed to be pretty even-keeled, especially when there’s the additional expectations of doing both. But Velazquez admits he’s got some bundled up energy for Sept. 2’s opener against Troy.
“I haven’t played football in over a year, so I’ve been anxious to get out in a real game. I’m excited for it,” he said.