The Redskins' punter is about to finish his fourth season in Washington and has enjoyed every minute of his time. Way sat down to discuss his ping-pong skills, the mental game of punting and the new board game projects he's working on. *
Is it lonely atop the team's ping-pong leaderboard?
No, it is not lonely at the top because Nick [Sundberg] and Dustin Hopkins beat me regularly, it's just that I tend to sneak out a series whenever we're playing. But they've both me knocked off a couple of times. We have some serious battles after practice and days off.
It must be pretty cool the two other specialists are strong ping-pong players.
Yeah, it's cool because it's something random and totally different that we all have in common that all three of us have grown to love and have fun with. We have the ladder of ping-pong in the locker room and I'm proud to say the specialists are on top.
Nick told me recently you were checking out a tournament.
Yeah, it was at the Gaylord.
How close were you to competing? **
Well, unfortunately we cannot do it because it's on Thanksgiving weekend. But they said it's any level. You get any team of three to five and you go and play people at your level. I'd like to see how we could do against those guys.
Have you looked at other smaller tournaments around the area?
Not really. Nick's asked me about if I've ever given it any real thought. But I really like playing with them. It's funny whenever we play random people, we tend to beat up on them pretty good because we know each other's tendencies. So whenever you play somebody random they don't know what to expect. That's usually whenever we fare pretty well, but maybe in the offseason if I wanted to go embarrass my wife I'd play in one.
She would get embarrassed by that?
I just don't think it's necessarily something where it's like, "Alright babe, very cool, good for you, go play the ping-pong tournament."
You guys are so close with Dustin. How was it this year without him playing for a good part of the season?
We really missed him. It was one of those things where we're together all OTAs, all training camp and you really get into a groove with one another and you get on the same page. We enjoy hanging out with each other a lot. It was weird, man. Nick Rose did an awesome job. He's a great dude and I'm so pumped that he's in L.A. with the Chargers now, but you could just tell something was missing. It's just kind of how it goes. It's like anything else when you spend so much time with someone and then they're away for a little bit. But we got to see him up here while he was doing rehab.
Was this a situation where you reached out to Nick Rose and make him as comfortable as possible?
Oh yeah, and honestly, I always let Nick [Sundberg] take point on that since he's the veteran specialist around here. He does such a great job, even when I first came in, of making me feel welcome. He did a great job with that.
As a holder, are you able to notice differences in kicking styles?
Oh yeah, and it's one of those things where I'm sure it's any position, a quarterback – he's around quarterbacks, he notices the spirals, the release angle – it's the same with me being around so many kickers. Nick is the same way, some of the guys that you learn different tendencies, different strikes and things like that.
What was the first moment you realized you could be a full-time punter?
When I was in college Coach [Bob] Stoops encouraged me to focus on punting and thought that I could be a really good punter in college.
Check out behind the scenes images from Punter, Tress Way's 2016 Redskins Photo Shoot.
Had you done any punting in high school?**
No, I was a placekicker. I was recruited out of high school to be a placekicker and Coach Stoops was right. I worked really hard. I hit the ball fairly well, I was pretty inconsistent and that led up through my first year out of college when I spent time in Chicago. Just hadn't quite clicked yet. Robbie Gould was really great and encouraged me. He could tell I was close it just hadn't clicked. The second year when I went back to Chicago in 2014, it all started clicking. I got here and I got to meet up with Nick, and Nick did a great job with me as a rookie, pumping my confidence and firing me up and doing a really great job with that. Ever since then it's been a groove, it's been fun.
Were you receptive to Stoops asking you to punt?
No, not really. I loved kicking. I loved the pressure of kicking. I loved putting points on the board. I loved game-winners, all that. When Coach said that, we did not have another punter and I was next in line so I just took it upon myself to own that role and give it a shot. Ended up working out.
What would you say the perfect punt feels like off the foot?
I would say it's very similar to anyone's that's ever hit a home run or a perfect drive in golf right down the middle of the fairway. It's almost as if everything clicks. You don't try and kill it, it's nice and smooth and you hit it so flush that it just comes off your foot you can hardly feel it. You're just trying to hit a nice easy line drive and it sails out of the park.
So you know on every kick whether you've hit it right.
Yeah, the second it comes off my foot. There's a couple times when you're playing in certain conditions when it's real windy, it can feel good and the wind can do something with it. If it's really cold outside, the balls are starting to get harder, it's tough to tell what feels good, but oh yeah I can tell when I hit. I'm sure it's the same with Nick, same with Hop, Kirk, as soon as he lets go of one. You do it so much you know it so immediately.
You have such a limited but crucial role in a game. How has your mental game developed from college?
Nick told me my rookie year that at about Year 3 or 4 I would have been in every situation. I would have played in the rain, I would have played in the wind, I would have punted backed up, I would have punted with the game on the line, I would have punted to pin the other team deep for a long drive, any of those situations, once you've been in them once, you remember it. The mental side of it, I have to stay locked in for the entire game, because I'm almost like a doctor that's on call. As soon as Jay calls punt we've got to be ready to go. That took some practice, but playing in the NFL is so fun it doesn't take much to get locked in and do it.
Have you consulted any books on mental training?
Whenever I was in college I was very technical, mechanical, I cared a lot about that sort of stuff and making sure every little thing was right. And then I just hit a groove my rookie year where it was the ball is going to fly, go out, do your thing, stay out of your head, just have fun. That's one thing that Nick says every time we run out on the field on fourth down. He always looks back and says "Hey, have some fun." You just go out there, play a little ball and hopefully we win.
I saw you tweeted when Devin Hester retired. Is he the greatest punt returner of all-time?
You had one year with him?
One year in Chicago.
What were practices like between you guys?
He was actually very encouraging to me. He told me a couple of times he wasn't a big fan of lefties because of the spin. And he said, "Man, you punt the ball so high, returners don't like that." Ever since then I've remembered that if I can get a returner to look straight up in the air, and he loses sight of everybody running after him, that'll make you feel pretty good. He was with Baltimore last year when we played Baltimore and I remember it was the end of the game and we had a punt with two minutes left and he's back there and I'm thinking I don't want to be part of this record. Sure enough, got down and tackled him and ended up winning the game. Any time your nickname is "any time" you know you're pretty special.
Is that really the competitive drive for a punter, the one-on-one matchup with the returner?
Oh yeah. That's the cool part about it is when I step out there, if I'm going against [Darren] Sproles, I'm going against Dwayne Harris, any of these guys across the league. It's one-on-one with me and those guys, you're trying to shut that guys down. But then I got 10 guys in front of me, he's got 10 guys in front of him, so it's a cool moment – my squad vs. your squad – and anytime we can flip the field and knock the snot out of those guys, we're alright.
You just hope you don't have to tackle them.
Absolutely. The odds are not in my favor if I try to tackle some of those guys that are the best athletes in the world.
What's more rewarding for you: a booming punt that switches field position or one placed inside the five-yard line?
Inside the five. That's changed recently because whenever I was young I just wanted to bang it and flip the field. That's great and it really is an awesome feeling but since I've learned more about the league, your percentages of scoring when you start inside of your own 20-yard line, inside of your own 10, inside of your own five, it's so low that it's cool to just help out. At the end of the day, I can only do that and the defense has to go stop them.
Your board game "What's Your Bid?" made a lot of headlines this summer. What kind of progress has been made with it?**
We got the pre-production proto-type in from the manufacturing company. They'll actually give it to everyone who ordered in February. Then we'll be on Amazon. And then Nick and I have been working on the app, and the app is really, really great, even more questions, even more categories, and you can just pull it out on the phone or play with friends. My wife will be really embarrassed with this one, but I came up with a card game this season. It was really easy. You don't want to be the last one with cards. It's just a slow countdown, very nerve-wracking, very funny. It's called "Who Farted?" There's a "You Farted" card and there's little wild [cards] in there, "Silent But Deadly," the "Crop Dust," super-embarrassing but everybody loves it. I love people getting together and having fun. I hope to play with the Redskins for the next 10 or 15 years, as long as they'll have me. I really enjoy coming up with something that everybody can get together and play and have a good time.
So the card game is the opposite of Uno?
Yeah, it's the opposite of Uno, so there's numbered cards, 1-40, so whoever had the 40 plays a card. Then you go clockwise, so it's 39 to the next person. If they don't have it, they have to draw a card from someone, if they draw the 39 they play it. You go round and round until it counts down to one. But there's wild [cards] in there, like "Whoever smelt it, dealt it," and you get to choose two players to switch hands. It's really a slow, funny countdown. Once you get to those last 10 cards it gets really nerve-wracking.
So the farting has no real purpose.
It's just my family, the way I grew up, my aunts, uncles, cousins, everybody thinks farts are funny so what the heck? We set the age at eight and higher, so hopefully some parents aren't, "Oh my gosh."
This seems like a good gift for the holidays.
Yeah, we tried to rush everything and get it done before this Christmas and it's cool, it's a learning process. I'm in the season so I don't really spend too much time on it. I want to be punting well and I want us to win but in the offseason I'll work hard on it and hopefully we'll get some real momentum built up for the next Christmas and see a lot of pushes. Johnny Hekker for the Rams texted me a picture, they were paying it the other night, "What's Your Bid?" I sent him one of the prototypes, he said they loved it. It's just cool to come up with something that everybody enjoys.
So you've really got a good PR machine from players around the league then.
Yeah, the guys have been so great. A lot of guys across the league – [punters] Thomas Morstead and Riley Dixon – and some of these guys, because when we meet up, we'll meet up in July and we'll all compete in time before training camp. We'll stay up in the dorm rooms where we're staying and we'll play "What's Your Bid?" The guys have been really great in helping me out with that. We've been off to a pretty good start and this offseason we got invited to the New York City Toy and Game Fair in February, and so I'll go to that and try to use my platform and meet people and learn some things.
This has got to be a thrill for you.
Yes, I would like to continue to do this eventually one day. I have seven games. I have this little journal. Nick is great, he's really encouraging. I'm like "Hey, what do you think?" "Dude, that sounds cool." Or he's like, "I'd tweak this." I've got seven games, four of which are copyrighted, and so I'll start working on prototypes. Everyone is different, which is cool. There's an old western-themed strategy game, "Who Farted?" and then you've got "What's Your Bid?" Trying to do it all.
What's the biggest thing you've learned through this process?
I would say all the different checkpoints. I did not realize – you kind of picture something like Hasbro and Monopoly, and you think they just kind of shove it out, they just pump it out. Oh my word, it is checkpoint after checkpoint after checkpoint and constantly editing and perfecting and eventually getting it there. Patience would be the biggest think I've learned.
How does your family navigate celebrating the holidays around the Redskins schedule?
One, I have the best wife in the world. She's so great and understanding and loves making it work. She loves that football season still is around the holidays. We'll try and get with family whenever we can, and we always have a great time. We have incredible families, and so we just try and make it work, just like everybody else.
With two games left, how do you reflect on this year?
First and foremost, I'm very thankful for another year, and man, I love playing for the Skins, and I love the fan base here and everybody's just been so awesome from the time I come out to warmup for a game to after the game. All the fans have really been awesome. Looking at a year like this year, it's tough. It's kind of like that "what if" where you look at some of these games we played in early in the year and the teams we were beating. We were really rolling, and it's just things that are out of your control. That's something that I've learned still as a young player. You can only control what you can control and hope for the best. I think it'll add to the anticipation of next year, just within the locker room. I'm sure the fans will be fired up, I'm sure everybody will be excited, but I can tell you that in this locker room, that anticipation will carry over into next year, because we really felt like we were rolling. We went on the road to beat the Rams and Raiders, should've got the Chiefs. It's just tough. Like you said, it's the "What ifs," but you can only control what you can control.