To get a leg up on the competition as a punter, Jake Hartbarger believes you must punt … and punt and punt.
Hartbarger, a senior at Anthony Wayne, has followed that relentless strategy to become one of the top high school punters in the country.
The 6-foot-4, 196-pound Hartbarger is weighing offers from Oklahoma, Iowa State, Miami (Ohio), and Toledo.
“You just have to keep training and punting,” Hartbarger said. “You have to live in the moment and get better by yourself. Even in the winter you have to keep punting. You can’t stop because then you will be back where you were before and fall behind. Being in Ohio it’s a little bit more difficult. But I still punt here on the field. I’ve punted in the snow.”
Last fall Hartbarger averaged 41.5 yards per punt. He also pinned opponents inside their 20-yard line on 10 kicks. His longest was 62 yards, along with four boots of 55 yards and three of 52.
The training is starting to pay off.
Hartbarger has been chosen to play Jan. 2 in the prestigious Under Armour All-American Game in Orlando. He earned all-district and All-Northern Lakes League first-team honors last season and was selected to the All-Blade team. He is ranked as the No. 2 high school punter in the country by Kohl’s Kicking recruiting service.
Anthony Wayne coach Craig Smith said Hartbarger’s unyielding work ethic makes him special.
“He flat out works extremely hard,” Smith said. “In the summer, I’ll see him out at the parks punting. He’s very, very dedicated to punting and kicking. That’s what’s gotten him to this point.”
Smith said he gives the team’s kicking nets to Hartbarger, who works with them in his basement.
Smith also said Hartbarger has the perfect size to be a punter.
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“But he’s gifted too,” Smith said. “He’s really driven, and he loves doing it.”
Hartbarger’s training also involves working with weights and cardiovascular exercises.
“But for my legs, you don’t want to bulk up too much because you lose flexibility,” he said. “Flexibility is key in punting.”
So he said the main training tool is to simply kick all of the time.
“Sometimes I’m on my own. Other times I have an underclassman kicker who works with me,” Hartbarger said. He also attends camps in warm-weather states.
He began attending kicker clinics and college camps after his sophomore season.
At the Kohl’s national camp he was among the top one percent of all punters, finished No. 2 for 2014 class, and was named a five-star punter. He also earned the No. 1 punter award at the Ray Guy Camp.
“At the Kohl’s camps there are guys from all over the nation,” he said. “I attended that twice. You really get to compare yourself to see where you are at.”
This summer he said he competed with kickers who have committed to Alabama, Notre Dame, and other BCS schools.
“My stats and hang times from that were very good. I was one the top kickers in the camp,” he said. “It gives me confidence.”
Smith said Hartbarger’s performance at the Kohl’s camp was huge.
“I’m really proud of him and all his hard work,” Smith said. “He rose up to the challenge.”
Hartbarger is following in the leg swing of former Generals kicker Travis Baltz.
Baltz was named to the All-Blade team in 2005 and 2006. He spent four seasons as a college punter at Maryland and earned All-Atlantic Coast Conference first-team honors in 2008.
Baltz signed a free-agent contract with the Indianapolis Colts after his college career but has yet to catch on with an NFL team.
Hartbarger said he began working with Baltz when he was a freshman.
“He’s definitely helped me out a lot with technique and stuff,” Hartbarger said. “He showed me what he would do and then he would let me transition off of that.”
The two worked on punting together this summer.
“He’s one guy that I try to pace myself to be. I really appreciate that he came out and helped me,” Hartbarger said.
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Added Smith: “They lived a couple blocks apart. Travis is a good role model for Jake. He watched him kick growing up here.”
Smith also uses Hartbarger for kickoffs and field goals. Hartbarger was 3 of 7 on field-goal attempts last season with a long of 42. He was 33 of 36 on extra-point kicks.
“But his future [in college] is as a punter,” Smith said.
Hartbarger plans to make official visits to Oklahoma, Iowa State, and Rutgers in the coming weeks. He also hopes to attend a game at Michigan State.
Hartbarger said the recruiting process has not been stressful.
“It’s a great time,” he said. “They treat you like you are part of their family. I’m enjoying the process. It’s something I’ll always remember.”
He said he wants to visit the campuses to make sure he makes the right decision.
“Everything’s open right now,” he said. “One of my goals was to get a Division I scholarship.”
Hartbarger is hoping to help AW capture an NLL title.
“Our main goal here is to win an NLL championship, and I’m going to do everything I can to do that,” Hartbarger said.
His goal this season is to increase his hang time.
“I want to help my team get down for coverage, which this past game I did a good job of,” he said.
Hartbarger averaged 43.0 yards on five punts in AW’s loss to Findlay in the opener last Friday.
“One of my goals is to try to pin them inside the 20 consistently,” Hartbarger said. “I want to change the field position. If you have a bad punt it could end up being a touchdown for them.”
Smith said Hartbarger’s impact on field position has altered some games.
“Winning the field position is critical to winning football games,” Smith said. “On most nights we will have the leg up on them.”
Smith said Hartbarger, who carries a 3.8 grade-point average, is quiet and unassuming, but that he has a competitive edge.
“He has a lot of options athletically and academically,” Smith said. “On Friday nights he has the drive to be the best.”