Zoltan Mesko will compete for punting job in New England after being first specialist drafted in 2010

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BY TIM ROHAN
Daily Sports Writer
Published April 25, 2010

You could call Filip Filipovic a psychic, per se. The former NFL punter and personal coach of Zoltan Mesko for the past three years had a hunch of where the former Michigan punter would end up in the NFL Draft.

Friday, one day before the final four rounds of the draft started, Filipovic predicted on a radio show that his punting protégé would be selected in the middle of the fifth round.

Lo and behold, that’s exactly where Mesko heard his name called the next day.

He was the first specialist taken, selected by the New England Patriots as the 150th pick in the Draft — the next specialist wouldn’t be taken until 22 picks later.

About two weeks earlier, Mesko had worked out in Ann Arbor with Scott O'Brien, the Patriots' Special Teams Coordinator. And with Filipovic watching, Mesko put on a show for his future employers.

“He had an amazing day punting outdoors with a really strong cross wind,” Filipovic said. “And I kinda thought after that, I really believed that he basically made a strong statement that he’s a guy that can get it done in New England.”

Moving on from Michigan to the NFL is a change that Mesko could flourish in due to his physical abilities. Filipovic said that Mesko’s leg strength and power and his overall natural ability are all key in potential success facing the elements.

“As long as he makes halfway decent contact with the ball, because he’s 6-4, 240, the balls going to carry down the field,” Filipovic said. “So he doesn’t have to be as precise in a bad climate as somebody that’s smaller would have to be. So I think he’s preferably suited for a place like New England.”

Filipovic and Mesko have been working together since Mesko was a redshirt sophomore, and the two molded Mesko’s game so well that he graduates this May as the most productive punter in Michigan history.

Filipovic drove up from his home in Chicago every other week leading up to February's NFL Scouting Combine to help Mesko prepare. Mesko was searching for guidance and help when Filipovic reached out years ago, and the relationship paid off as he developed into a Ray Guy award finalist last season, a title given to the nation's best punter.

“Zoltan’s the kind of guy that can punt in cold weather, he can punt directionally inside the 20, one-step punts out of the back of the end zone, he can do that,” Filipovic said back in February. “He really has become one of those punters who has all of the attributes. He has good hands, he’s quick with his get off time. There’s really no reason for a coach to get nervous about sending him out onto the field at any level.

“That’s what I feel is Zoltan’s greatest strength ... He’s good enough basically for any level.”

At the Combine, Todd McShay, Director of College Football Scouting for ESPN Scouts Inc., said that Mesko was one of the top punters available in the draft. But McShay thought that Mesko wouldn't be drafted until the seventh round, if at all. He was tossing around the idea that there might not be a single punter taken in this year’s draft, which obviously ended up not being the case.

Instead, Mesko joins fellow former Wolverines linebacker Pierre Woods and quarterback Tom Brady in New England.

“I’d like to get to know him, he’s a pretty cool guy,” Mesko said of Brady at the combine when a reporter speculated about him being drafted by New England.

Mesko could even make a significant impact of his own next year. Chris Hanson, the Patriots’ punter for the past three seasons, was not re-signed after a poor season in 2009. So Mesko has a good chance to start from day one in New England.

Filipovic said that he will continue to personally coach Mesko as he develops in the NFL, and about an hour and a half after Mesko was drafted, Filipovic called to congratulate him on making it to the NFL.

“There was no doubt in my mind that he was going to be the (first) specialist drafted,” Filipovic said. “Since the day that I met Zoltan three years ago we worked on being a complete punter. … We really focused on just getting him ready to be evaluated by special team coaches in the NFL when he was coming out. … He was the most complete guy coming out of college, the most complete specialist.”