With Tweets and coaching tips, Filipovic helps Mesko, seven other Big Ten kickers

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Michigan's Zoltan Mesko punts against Michigan State on October 23, 2008. Buy this photo

Daily Sports Editor
Published October 13, 2009

It’s pretty safe to say that nothing Filip Filipovic Tweets about will ever become a trending topic.

While hordes of Twitter users gossip about hazy celebrity rumors or chuckle at yet another ridiculous Tweet from Chad Ochocinco, Filipovic, under the handle “TheKickingCoach,” drops friendly reminders to the high school and college punters and kickers that follow him.

“Punters: Football should never be any closer to your body than ‘handshake’ distance. Whenever punting or doing drills, keep it away,” he Tweeted five days before one of his disciples, Zoltan Mesko, averaged 53.8 yards per punt against Iowa and earned Big Ten Special Teams Player of the Week honors.

The former Dallas Cowboys punter occasionally gets more technical on his Twitter, too: “To execute an end over end rugby punt, drop the ball straight up and down, point the toe, and swing your foot through bottom 3rd of the ball.”

Or offers recruiting advice: “University of Iowa is looking to scholarship a punter from the class of 2010. Send them your video.”

But Filipovic, 31, does more than scribble 140-character messages about the one of the most nuanced positions in football. He coaches at least 30 college punters, including Mesko, Iowa’s Ryan Donahue and Michigan State’s Aaron Bates. All in all, he said eight current Big Ten kickers have benefited from his expertise.

Filipovic’s relationship with Mesko started about two years ago.

“I have some family outside of Ann Arbor,” Filipovic said in a phone interview last night. “I watched Zoltan punt before, and I just contacted him, and asked him if he wanted any help with punt and his mechanics. We met up once, and he enjoyed working with me, so we kept up.”

The two talk at least once a week during the season, and Filipovic said they meet about once a month. In the offseason, Mesko has more time to practice and often sees Filipovic for kicking sessions.

Filipovic, who signed with the Cowboys after the 2002 NFL Draft, said a punter as experienced as Mesko gains more from one-on-one practices than group sessions. But when the coach hosts large kicking camps for high schoolers, the college kickers come to practice together — and things can get competitive.

At Filipovic’s camps, Mesko and his Big Ten counterparts kick against each other in contests, which are filmed, so each punter can review them later. The punters’ get-togethers are a welcome change to college practices, which can sometimes be a lonely affair.

“I mean, a lot of kickers and punters, you’re off on your own in practice and stuff like that,” said Donahue, who is averaging more than 41 yards per punt at Iowa this season. “It’s nice to be able to measure up to whoever your competition is. So in the offseason, you try to work out with as many punters as you can.”

Added Mesko: “Why we work together is because — I don’t know. Kickers and punters get made fun of a lot by the rest of the team. So our special fraternity has to stick together.”

The rivalry between the Big Ten’s punters ends there, though.

Although it may add a little extra motivation to punt against someone you practiced with over the summer, when the punters get in the game, it’s more of an introverted skill.

But that doesn’t mean Mesko and Donahue ignored each other last Saturday, when the Wolverines traveled to Iowa City.

“We joked around and stuff before the game,” Donahue said after the game. “And he kicked the crap out of the ball today, so it was fun.”

Filipovic said that kind of interaction was common for punters and kickers in the college game. But if Mesko moves on to the next level, he may want to bone up on his trash-talking, as well as his punting skills.

“I guess it doesn’t get really competitive between kickers until the NFL,” Filipovic said. “It’s probably a real friendly competition for him now. It’s not until the NFL when guys get a little meaner.”