Landon Foster certainly would seem to have the versatility to be a productive punter and/or kicker at Kentucky based on what he did for Independence High School in Thompson Station, Tenn.
He was a first-team Class AAAAAA kicker by the Tennessee Sports Writers’ Association. He made 11 of 16 field goals as a senior with a long of 49 and averaged 41.3 yards per punt. Fifty of his 56 kickoffs went for touchbacks and four of the others were onside kicks.
He was named his team’s most valuable player and was ranked as the No. 8 kicker in the nation by Scout.com and the No. 12 kicker and the 10th best prospect in the state of Tennessee by SuperPrep.
Foster, who reported to UK this week for summer school, shared these insights about his career and future before arriving in Lexington:
Question: Are you a punter? Are you a placekicker? Are you both?
Foster: “I am definitely approaching it as being a punter. I know Craig Hentrich, punter for the Tennessee Titans, and I have always punted with him and was just joking around until my freshman year, and that’s when I started playing football.
“I kicked and punted because I played soccer and I didn’t really know what I wanted to do until this summer when I started going to camps. I got a couple of scholarship offers for kicking and couple to go punting.
“I remember telling my mom right after the Kentucky camp driving down to Knoxville that I wanted to punt in college. I cancelled all my trips that were looking at me to kick and just focused on punting. That’s what I want to do.
“I can kick as well and that’s what coach Phillips wants me to do — just be there in case. My junior and senior season after Joe (Mansour) leaves, I might fill in at kicker or whatever. But when he (Phillips) calls me, he tells me to make sure I am punting and not worrying about kicking. So punting is my main thing.”
Question: How much has your relationship with Hentrich helped you and how much has he taught you?
Foster: “He has been mentor my whole life. I met him when I was 5 years old. I didn’t think about playing football then, but he’s like an uncle to me. We have been great friends and it has helped me through the college process and obviously kicking. I learned everything I knew from him. It has been great and he’s a great person period. I always look up to him and ask him for advice.”
Question: How does a 5-year-old youngster develop a friendship with a NFL punter?
Foster: “My parents got to know him. I just got to know him through my parents. I played soccer my whole life. He actually didn’t play football until his sophomore year in high school and he always said you should try out. I was going to try out my eighth grade year but I went over to England for 12 days and our middle school coach if you missed two practices, you were not allowed to be on the team and I didn’t play.”
Question: Did playing soccer help you with your punting and kicking?
Foster: “People say that, but it completely different. When you punt a soccer ball, you punt from the side. Punting in football everything has to be precise and right down the middle and in a straight line. Craig says I am a natural punter, which is weird. In soccer I was a goalie and punted, too. It is completely opposite and why I quit soccer after my sophomore year to focus on football. Going back and forth was hard and even kicking a soccer ball is different from kicking a football. You had to keep changing your form back and forth and that got tough.”
Question: Were you strictly a kicker-punter in football or did you play another position as well?
Foster: “My freshman year I played outside linebacker and wid receiver. This year right before our camp during the summer the coaches saw me throw a few balls and tried to get me to play quarterback. I knew I couldn’t learn the playbook in two weeks, so I decided not to do that.”
Question: Did you play other sports growing up?
Foster: “I messed around. I played basketball one or two years. Played baseball a year. Soccer was always my life and I ended up succeeding in that. Then it was time for a new challenge, so I started football. Got successful in that, too.”
Question: What does a punter do during practice to stay busy?
Foster: “We had another kicker here who is about to start kicking for us. We would go to the game field, do some drills and play some punt golf. I am not sure what they call it at Kentucky, but you start off 20 yards and punt it and can’t drop it. All the snappers and punters play that.
“Ryan Tydlacka was giving me problems about being on the winning team. You just have to work on your technique. You can’t go into practice and kick 200 balls. That’s what I did my sophomore year and ended up injuring my knee.You have to just work on technique and not kick a 1,000 balls.”
Question: How did a punter from Tennessee decide Kentucky was right for him?
Foster: “I went to camp twice at Kentucky. My dad came up with me the second time and we talked to (former Tennessee quarterback) Tee Martin and asked him why he was coaching at Kentucky. He said the people.
“Without a doubt, that is it. Coach (Joker) Phillips was up front the whole time. (Special teams) Coach (Greg) Nord is one of the funniest guys I know. He is random, but so funny and practices are fun. Coach Steve Pardue is my recruiting coach and knows so many people around here. He knows my geometry teacher’s husband. He knows the high school coach in Franklin who is our biggest rival. He knew tons of people around here, so that was odd. He is a great guy too. Very personable.
“Also, the opportunity to come in early and maybe play. Nothing will be given to me. You have to go in, do your work during camp and earn the spot but just the opportunity is there and why not take it. The last thing is the atmosphere. I loved it up there. The campus is great. Medical is great up there. Just everything about it seemed right.”
Question: Do you know much about the success current Green Bay Packers punter Tim Masthay had at Kentucky?
Foster: “No, not really. I had heard of him because Green Bay won a Super Bowl. It was funny right when I went up for my second camp at Kentucky and I was watching on ESPN the Packers getting their rings and think it was two days later they actually flew Tim down to work with me. He brought his ring and I got to meet him there. It is odd because Craig was the last punter to punt for the Packers when they won the Super Bowl, so I know the last two punters who have won the Super Bowl with the Packers. It was great and he’s a great guy.”
Question: What do you hope to improve on or learn more about during the summer before preseason camp starts?
Foster: “Obviously, learn my way around the campus and just get used to college. Being on your own and so forth. Football-wise, obviously get stronger and more consistent — any kicker or punter will say that, even the pro guys.
“I tell everyone that says you hit a 60-yard field goal and should be in the pros. The difference is that in the pros they can hit that 99 times out of 100. In college, you hit 50 out of 100. A guy going Division I out of high school can hit it 25 out of 100.
“Your consistency is key. We can hit the same ball as most NFL guys and they can hit it over and over without shanking one or dropping inside. That is the biggest difference.”
Question: What about comments from Phillips and Nord that you “sound” like a punter?
Foster: “You can tell. If you hit the sweet spot, it sounds great. You can tell when people try to create the spiral by side swiping it and kicking it off the side of their foot and it doesn’t sound as solid. When you drop it right, hit it right and follow through, then it sounds like a boom. It really does. You can just tell. You can close your eyes and tell.”
Question: Is that the best compliment a coach can give a punter?
Foster: “I would say so. And being clutch. That was a huge compliment and didn’t surprise me. I remember my first camp that I went to and I didn’t even kick. We were supposed to kick and I ended up punting all day. Coach Phillips would stand shoulder to shoulder with me and say, ‘Don’t shank this one’ and I would hit it right and he would say, ‘One more.’ It just kept going. Probably did that 10 to 15 times and he finally said, ‘All right. You are good.’”
Question: What about academics? Do you enjoy your class work?
Foster: “I have always enjoyed school. Certain subjects I don’t enjoy, but I am a big math and science guy. I was thinking about going pre-med but after talking to Pat Simmons, a walk-on kicker who stopped this year to focus on med school, I think I am going in undecided to make sure that is what I want to do. I have to know if I want to devote most of my time to that or do I want to go a different route. I have always enjoyed academics and school. It has been a blessing here.”
Question: Can a punter think too much, especially a punter who likes math and science like you do?
Foster: “Not too much. I try not to. That is what happens with a lot of kickers. When we watch film, it is completely different from how other players watch film. We always see little things we will work. You can’t work on everything at once. You have to work on one thing and once you get that down, it is muscle memory, and then you can move on to the next thing and take it a step at a time.”
Question: How do you feel about being the No. 1 punter on a team that has had Masthay and Tydlacka in recent years? Nervous or excited about the opportunity?
Foster: “I feel blessed about the opportunity. Obviously you are going to have a little bit of nerves going from high school to college, especially in the SEC. You just have to block that out and kick the ball. Same thing middle school, high school, college and the pros. You are kicking the ball. It doesn’t matter how many people you are playing in front of and what kind of team you are playing on. You are kicking the ball.”
Question: Do you worry if you would open the season and struggle that media members or fans might decide you will never be like Masthay and Tydlacka?
Foster: “You are a different guy and you are going to make a name for yourself. You can’t worry about comparisons. I am going to work my butt off. It’s nice to know at Kentucky that they have had successful punters, but it doesn’t matter. You are a different guy. It’s not like a quarterback where you come into a different system or wide receiver where you might come into the hands of a bad quarterback. You are a different guy and it is all on you. You are just punting. I like that. I like to be in control of what I do. When I play golf, ping pong or whatever, I like the game to be in my hands because if I screw up, it’s all my fault. I will know what to work on. It is a blessing and great opportunity but I would like to make a name for myself as well.”
Question: How will your punting help UK, and what will you gain being part of the team?
Foster: “Kicking is a huge part of the game. They are trying to eliminate the kickoffs, which I think is absurd. I think if I do my best that will help them win a couple of games. It always does, especially in the SEC where games are decided by special teams.
“As for me, Kentucky is a great school and great team with great guys on it. At the spring game when we met all the games that we had not already known and they seemed like great guys that you will grow friendships with for the rest of your life.
“I have always heard it is not a four-year decision when you choose where you are going to college, but it is a lifetime decision. You are always going to represent that university, be part of that university and will always feel attached to it. I think I will get four great years out of it and lifetime memories.”
Question: What did you think of Tanner Blaine of Illinois announcing he would come to Kentucky as a walk-on punter?
Foster: “I heard that. It is great. I love competition. It is always going to bring out the best in people and adds depth. Obviously Jay (Wilmott) and Joe (Mansour) have not been producing or whatever this spring. I think they are both great punters and great people, but if they are not producing then you have to find a guy that can help the team win. It just brings in more depth and more competition.”
Question: Can you handle the pressure, both positive and negative, of the Kentucky fans and do you play well under pressure?
Foster: “I do like the game to be in my hands. I like to think I am good under pressure. I have had three game-winning chances for field goals and I hit all three. I love pressure. I really do.
“You have to block out the media and you have to block out the fans. They are always going to be there. I am the type of guy that will know if I screwed up and will take it out on myself. I will make myself get better and not listen to guys say, ‘Why did we get this go and so forth.’”
Question: Do you think you will continue to enjoy interacting with Kentucky fans on Twitter once you are at UK?
Foster: “It will be tough with school and games. I would love to. Me and Patrick Graffree, we all love it. We love the fans. That was one of the biggest criteria when I was choosing a college was how much support the team had because I love interacting with fans. I am very personable. Around in high school, I am the big man on campus and people are scared to come up to me. I am like, ‘Just come up to me. I am a human person, too.’ I love to talk to people. That is something I always want to do.”