The No. 2 Michigan football team has coaches for just about every position on the field. For quarterbacks, linebackers, tight ends, lineman, cornerbacks, wide receivers and running backs, there’s a coach dedicated to improving the technique of each player.
But for Tommy Doman, there is no coach.
There’s a special teams coordinator, and there’s staff who assist him, but the junior punter and kicker occupies two of the only positions on the roster without their own full-time coach. It’s a reality he’s dealt with throughout his entire career — beginning in fourth grade. And that means Doman has had to learn more than just his craft. He’s learned how to make his own routines and criticize his own performances.
He’s had to learn to be his own coach.
In fourth grade, Doman was primarily a soccer player when his football team announced that they needed a kicker. He tried the position, fell in love with it and then threw himself into it. He crossed state lines for camps and went to every coach he could find, looking to gain any knowledge that they could impart on him.
But after camps, trainings and teaching Doman all of the techniques they could, each of the coaches he went to gave him a similar message.
“Their main thing was, learn and be able to have a base of knowledge to coach yourself,” Doman said Tuesday. “Because in high school there’s not a lot of kicking coaches. So you gotta be able to coach yourself.”
Each of Doman’s coaches told him that kicking and punting would be, in many respects, a solitary endeavor. He could learn the skills and techniques with them, but if he was to improve, it would have to come from developing the basic knowledge of technique, and then learning to coach himself with that knowledge on his own. He wouldn’t be able to rely on the criticisms and pointers of others, he’d had to provide those for himself.
“Most NFL kickers or snappers or punters are literally on their own,” former Michigan kicker and owner of Kornblue Kicking, Brandon Kornblue, told The Daily. “You know they may have a special teams coordinator, and an analyst or an assistant. But usually those guys are not the most technically sound guys and most of them will admit that. So the reality is that the more you can coach yourself and the more you can understand the technique, the better you’re going to be. Because no matter where you go, even the highest level programs, most of them don’t have a technically savvy coach.”
With the knowledge that his position was a solitary one and that any improvement would have to be self-driven, Doman threw himself into learning how to perfect his craft. Emulating the strict outlines his father Thomas — a colonel in the United States Marine Corps — set forth, Doman learned how to act as his own coach.
He kicked for hours on empty fields. He analyzed his own film. He focused on athleticism in ways not expected of specialists. And he made routines for himself like a coach would for a player.
“He comes from a military background, so (he’s) very proper,” Kohl’s kicking assistant director, Luke Radke, told The Daily. “… Growing up the way he grew up, just the routine. I mean through the highs, the lows, the ups, the downs, everything else in between — finding a good routine. … He’s been very goal driven, and realistically, the ability to even on bad days just focus in on ‘OK, if I do what I’m supposed to do I’m going to be successful.’ That’s where he really separated himself.”
The more Doman committed to his process, the more recognition he started to get. And by his senior year of high school, he had received 10 Division I offers and was ranked the No. 2 punter and No. 6 kicker in the country.
“We were in Madison, Ohio, doing the training camp,” Radke said. “And you’re inside and normally everyone’s okay, maybe hitting the ceiling. And (Doman’s) sitting there just peppering the ceiling. And you’re like ‘OK, this kid’s really good.’ ”
However, even with all the hype that Doman had generated in the kicking community, he spent his first two years with the Wolverines waiting. Sitting behind former punter Brad Robbins and former kicker Jake Moody, Doman didn’t have opportunities to play.
But he did have opportunities to grow. Even without a specialist coach, spending time with Robbins and Moody — future NFL players — gave Doman models for growth. And so for two years, he emulated the pair and gleaned what he could from them. For the first time, Doman was surrounded by veterans he could learn from every day.
“I think the timing was so great of being behind (Robbins and Moody),” Kornblue said. “Just so he could learn for those first couple of years and not be in a rush to get on the field too early. … For a kicker or a punter to come in and start as a true freshman is so difficult. It’s normal and it’s good for long term development to have that time to adjust.”
Now though, the adjustment period is over. With Robbins in the NFL, Doman handles kickoffs and punts for the Wolverines. And while the punter might not be a player that fans recognize — or even a player that fans want on the field — he relishes his role, referring to himself as Michigan’s “4th down quarterback.”
And while the statement is partly hyperbole, what Doman provides for the Wolverines is indispensable. He’s a part of the defense, because whether or not he can pin an opponent back can alter the outcome of games.
“It’s enormous,” Michigan defensive coordinator Jesse Minter said, speaking of Doman’s contributions. “Like the whole goal in football is No. 1, score points. No. 2, don’t give up field position. … He’s a huge piece of what we’re doing. The more field that the (opposing) offense has to go, the better chance we have to get off of the field.”
But for Doman, getting to this point hasn’t been a drive for recognition. It’s not about whether fans understand the importance of a punter, it’s about perfecting a craft.
For Doman, getting to this point has been reliant on how hard he has been able to coach himself. Because Tommy Doman didn’t have a full time positional coach in high school, and doesn’t have one now.
But that hasn’t mattered, because he has learned to coach himself.