University of Miami punters battling to fill Pat O’Donnell’s ‘big shoes’

08/11/2014 12:00 AM

08/11/2014 8:47 PM

When you’re following in the path of a punter who clocked a 4.64 40-yard dash at the Combine, bench presses more than 370 pounds, had a 10-yard split of 1.53 seconds in college (faster than 2012 Olympic medalist Jeff Demps) — and, oh yeah, was second in the nation last season with a 47.1-yard punting average, life could be a little pressure-packed.

But new University of Miami punting contenders Justin Vogel and Ricky Carroll say they’re only looking ahead, certainly not at what the Hurricanes don’t have now that 2013 ace Pat O’Donnell is playing with the Chicago Bears.

“I’m going to do what needs to be done,” said Carroll, a walk-on senior who at 24 is believed to be the oldest Hurricane but has been with UM since 2012 without having played in a game. “Pat O’Donnell had a much, much stronger leg than anyone I’ve ever seen. Those are big shoes to fill to be a Pat O’Donnell.”

Vogel, a walk-on who was a Florida Gator the past two seasons and also has never played in a college game, said he “didn’t know or see’’ O’Donnell — who these days is a Bears fan favorite who elicits “megapunt!’’ whenever he booms one in training camp.

“He was obviously a great punter,” Vogel said. “I’m just going to do whatever I can do, and we’ll see what happens. I’m not going to try and worry about beating him. I’m just going to worry about being the best I can for this team.”

Vogel, at 6-4 and 210 pounds, is from Tampa and averaged 45 yards per punt at Berkeley Prep, where he played defense along with special teams.

His father, Paul, played college football at South Carolina and middle linebacker for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Houston Oilers.

He said “the situation’’ with the Gators “was unfavorable for me, and everyone understands it. So if it’s not going to work out where you’re at, find a team that needs you and wants you, and that’s what Miami wanted. They needed a punter, so I saw a great opportunity.”

Vogel is a junior academically but has three seasons of eligibility left.

“I had a couple scholarship offers from some smaller schools like Northern Illinois,” he said, “but I decided I wanted to take a shot here and play with a good Division I school.”

He is competing to do kickoffs, as Carroll is out of that competition and kicker Matt Goudis sustained a back injury during the summer and hasn’t been practicing them in camp.

“Right now, I’m doing what Coach [Al] Golden wants, like 43 yards and 4.3 hang [time],” Vogel said. “I kick more than that here, but that’s the average I’m shooting for.”

Vogel, 20, said he hasn’t gotten too much grief about being a former Gator.

“They tease you a little bit in the beginning, but then it’s just like they beat us anyway [last season], so they had the upperhand. Everyone’s cool,” he said.

Vogel said there’s not much of a difference in practice between UF and UM, but that UF coach Will Muschamp “is way more focused on the defense” and “Golden is more into the players. I feel like he knows me better; I mean also because he’s the special teams coach.”

Golden said both punters are doing a good job, but “it’s just not quite time to determine the punter race. We’re the only place in America that [has] a punter controversy, right?” he joked. “Pat was good. I’m going to let the punters compete every day, compare and see them in a live situation, and then we’ll determine after that.”

Carroll, who is 6-3 and 198 pounds, played his first two seasons at Orange Coast, a junior college in Costa Mesa, California. He was a baseball shortstop before he “blew out both shoulders.”

The left one, he said, “was popping out when I swung. It would slip. So I’d have to hold it in place because I was a righty.”

And the other one?

“They said overuse.”

He figures he is averaging 43 or 44 yards per punt, “which is coach’s standard.”

Carroll’s dream is to travel to a game and, of course, punt.

Would it be worth the hard work if he doesn’t win the job?

“Oh my gosh, absolutely,” he said.

“I’m a gamer. I love to compete. If I don’t win the starting job, yes, I’ll be crushed. But to say I was a part of this program is a lifetime experience in its own [right]. Very few people can say they’ve done what I’ve done.”

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