Normally, if the performance of a punter winds up serving as a topic of conversation during the week following a game, it’s for something that went wrong, rather than right.
But that isn’t the case when it comes to USC’s Kris Albarado. Having played a crucial part in the Trojans’ 17-14 victory over Utah State this past Saturday by pinning five of his seven punts inside the Aggies’ 20-yard line, including two inside the five, the first-year starter found himself in unfamiliar territory on Wednesday, fielding questions from a variety media outlets after the team’s workout. This, just two days after having been named as the Pac-12 Special Teams Player of the Week -- something that Albarado couldn’t quite believe when he initially learned that he had received the honor through, of all things, Twitter.
“Honestly I was pretty shocked,” said Albarado, who on the season is averaging 40.3 yards per punt, while placing 12 of his 23 attempts inside the opponents’ 20. “It just popped up, and I was like, ‘No, this can’t be right.’ But it is pretty cool to get the attention. I kind of get to see the side of everything that Marqise [Lee] and everybody gets to see.”
In a game that quickly escalated into a battle of field position, Albarado’s punts were a big reason why the Utah State offense faced an uphill struggle for much of the contest, beginning each drive, on average, at its own 21-yard line. That, on top of another stellar performance by the Trojans defense, spelled doom for the Aggies in the end.
But despite his standout showing, as well as the newfound recognition, the third-year sophomore is quick to point out that he couldn’t have done it without some help.
“Obviously, I punted the ball pretty well, but I’m not going to take all of the credit,” Albarado said. “Our guys protected, they covered well and they went and downed the ball well. So, it’s not all me, it was a team effort. I just did what I could to put my team in position to win.”
Having arrived at USC as a highly touted member of the Trojans’ signing class of 2011 out of Lake Charles (La.) St. Louis, Albarado originally envisioned making an instant impact when he made the trek cross-country. Instead, he had to wait in the wings for two years behind Kyle Negrete. And while Albarado did struggle at times with having to stand on the sidelines, he now realizes that the experience helped him in the long run.
“It wasn’t something that I was expecting,” Albarado said, “but I think the two years really helped me develop as a player, and it also helped me in school, and learning how [USC special teams coach John Baxter] punts here, because it’s very different than what most people think, or what most people would consider conventional punting. But it definitely helped, and I’m grateful that I got those two years to work, to learn and to get stronger. I didn’t see it then, but I do now.”
And Albarado isn’t joking when he talks about Baxter. A virtual guru on the topic of punting, kicking and anything else to do with special teams, Albarado has learned more in the last few years than he could have ever imagined, including the art of the pooch punt – something he executed to perfection against Utah State, thanks in large part to a newly-learned technique that he typically utilizes whenever the Trojans approach midfield.
“We started working on the Australian-type punt that kind of comes off my foot backwards, and we’ve worked a lot on that,” said Albarado of the style that he says he used on four of the five punts that were downed inside the Aggies’ 20-yard line. “We looked at a lot of film of other guys doing it, and then worked on it out here on the field, and I just got better at it. I never did that kind of punt before I got here … I had never really heard of it to be honest.“
As is clearly evident, the time and effort that Albarado put in is now paying off. And while he has found a certain level of success through the team’s first four games, highlighted by this past weekend’s outing, he remains focused on continuing to develop his skill-set even further and he’s hoping that even brighter days are on the horizon – starting this Saturday when USC visits Arizona State.
“I just have to keep working every day to make sure that one performance isn’t the height of my career,” Albarado said. “I want to keep getting better every day. I want to come back and punt better next week.”