It doesn’t really matter how far Michigan’s Zoltan Mesko can punt the ball. He’s more worried about impressing his friends with his golf swing anyway.
This summer, the redshirt sophomore worked on his best imitation of Happy Gilmore’s running swing from the tee box and said he got pretty good at it – until he tried to show it off to his friends.
“I was like, ‘Check this 350-yard drive out,’ and I stubbed my club right before I hit the tee,” Mesko said. “It got loose on me, and I swung the club head 150 yards.”
Though Mesko admits he shoots in the 90s over 18 holes, his average score doesn’t discourage him from hitting the driving range.
“I like to go out on the driving range a lot and take a whack at the ball,” Mesko said. “Take some stress out.”
And this season, Mesko’s had more reason to take out the clubs. He’s added the pressure of being the holder on the field-goal unit to his responsibilities.
Mesko said it took him some time this summer to get used to the position, but he knew someone had to fill the shoes of departed starter Ross Ryan, who held for the Wolverines last season.
On top of his punting duties, Mesko practiced taking snaps. Now he’s got a handle on the job, as long as he remembers one important factor, made famous by Ace Ventura.
“I have to make sure I get the spot every time and get the laces out,” Mesko said. “I don’t want ‘Laces out, Marino’ calls.”
Back in high school, Mesko, who was a field goal kicker and a punter, criticized his holder.
But now that he’s the one taking the snap, he’s realized just how hard it is.
“They’re not noticed until they mess up,” Mesko said.
Even with the added duties, the 6-foot-4 punter has excelled at his natural position. Michigan coach Lloyd Carr said Mesko is having a great year. Mesko, who moved with his parents to the United States from Romania as a child, is averaging 42.3 yards per punt, good for second in the Big Ten.
He points to the changes – or the lack of them – he made this summer for his success this year.
Last season, Mesko adjusted his technique every week, but during the summer, he decided everything would stay the same.
He stopped trying to cross over with his leg swing, something many NFL punters do, and worked on getting his leg straight through the ball instead.
But if Mesko isn’t working on punting or holding, he’s either in the weight room trying to win over strength and conditioning coach Mike Gittleson or running extra laps to stay in shape.
The lanky punter tries to stay busy.
He even plays a little catch with the ball boys, which might suggest a fake field-goal attempt in his future.
“Maybe,” Mesko said after a pause. “I can’t really say. My arm’s OK. I wish I could’ve played some quarterback in high school, but I’ve played enough catch with the ball boys to be good at it.”