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Aaron Opelt knew he had some big shoes to fill playing so soon after one of the University of Toledo s all-time greats in Bruce Gradkowski. He didn t know he d have to replace another of UT s best in punter Brett Kern.
Opelt, the Rockets junior quarterback, was UT s primary punter against Eastern Michigan on Saturday. He s punted five times in the first two games, with redshirt freshman Bill Claus punting six times in that span.
Opelt is averaging 33.6 yards per punt, landing two inside the opponent s 20-yard line.
I didn t know I was going to be punting this much, either, Opelt said. I ve got to pin it down there inside the 20 sometimes. Other than that, I m enjoying it.
Against Arizona, Opelt punted just once but booted the ball 51 yards in a rugby-style running kick. Despite an 11-yard punt to start the day against EMU, Opelt punted three more times using rugby kicks. One of his punts was muffed by EMU and the Rockets recovered at the Eagles 17-yard line.
UT coach Tom Amstutz was more than willing yesterday to talk about his quarterback s arm. But always the strategist, Amstutz didn t have much to say about Opelt s leg.
We gave him a little tryout and saw that he could punt, Amstutz said. We may continue to use him some.
For this game we re probably planning not to use him, he said with a laugh.
The Rockets face No. 25 Fresno State on Saturday night at the Glass Bowl. The obvious advantage for UT with Opelt punting is that one of these days on fourth down, he might throw it instead.
Right now we ve just got [the punt] in, but if we end up throwing that wrinkle in down the road, that ll be cool, Opelt said. [Other teams] definitely have to think that.
Opelt doesn t have a lot of kicking in his background, and played soccer only when he was little.
My best friend in high school, he was always the guy punting, Opelt said. He was a lot better than me. I just come out and listen to the coaches tell me what I ve got to do.
Coach Amstutz told me we re going to put you in a punt formation. I went out and did it and it worked. I guess they had a little bit of faith in me.
UT quarterbacks haven t been foreign to punting the last couple years. Opelt punted once last year and former quarterback Brandon Summers had two punts in 2006.
Amstutz wouldn t comment on whether the Rockets are using Opelt as a punter for the double-threat possibility. Claus is averaging 38.2 yards per punt. Against EMU he had one punt for 28 yards.
Before practice Opelt has quarterback responsibilities so he can t go out on the field with the rest of the kickers. He still finds time to work on it, though.
We have a punt period every day, Opelt said. I go out and get a few punts in. I definitely get quite a bit of punting during the day.
TAKEAWAY TIME: After two games, UT is ranked 13th in the nation in turnover margin at 1.5. The Rockets forced five turnovers against EMU and one against Arizona, while giving the ball up three times to the Eagles.
Five turnovers, if we do that we re going to have a chance to win a lot of games, Amstutz said. We want to get our hands on the ball. That s how you play defense, that s how you give yourself a chance to win a game.
DEPTH CHART MOVES: Junior Tom Burzine moved ahead of senior John Allen at tight end on the depth chart released yesterday. Other changes include Jared DeWalt, who missed the first two games because of suspension, back on the two-deep as a second-string left guard. Redshirt freshman Danny Noble has moved to first team at a receiver spot.
Contact Maureen Fulton at:firstname.lastname@example.org 419-724-6160.