Matt Darr is a three-time state champion thrower, a former high school linebacker and just two years removed from the college football doghouse.
Today, he’s the new punter for the Miami Dolphins.
Darr learned early Tuesday that he beat out former Pro Bowler Brandon Fields for the Dolphins’ punting job, the latest sign that almost no familiar face is safe in the Mike Tannenbaum era.
“I was thrilled,” Darr said about hearing the news. “Coming here, having this opportunity was a thrill in itself for me. To be named the starter is just something unreal. I’m extremely excited and looking forward to helping out this team win a lot of games.”
The team made the move official Tuesday by cutting Fields, choosing to part ways with their second-longest tenured player in a cost-cutting move.
“I’ve enjoyed my past 8 years in Miami,” Fields wrote on Twitter. “Dolfans you are the best and thank you for your support. On to my next chapter!”
The decision frees up $2 million in salary and nets the team roughly $500,000 in 2015 salary cap space, which the Dolphins presumably want to carry over to next year. They are already over the projected 2016 cap, but by having Fields off the books, it reduces their 2016 liability by some $4 million.
Fields, a seventh-round pick in 2007, is one of only two punters in NFL history to average 48.8 yards per punt or higher in three consecutive years.
But Darr, an undrafted rookie out of Tennessee, outperformed Fields this preseason. He had a higher punting average (50.3 to 47.0) and net punting averge (41.9 to 41.1).
“I don’t want to sound like a smart aleck but I mean, you guys have been here,” Philbin said, when asked by reporters what Darr has done to impress him enough to win the job.
Philbin added: “He’s punted the ball well. He’s a punter. That’s his job description. That’s what we are going to ask him to do, and at the end of the day we felt that he was going to be our best option at punter in 2015. It’s not that much more complicated than that.”
Darr also becomes the team’s new holder on extra points and field goals — a job he hasn’t held on a regular basis since his early days at Tennessee. The team “absolutely” has confidence in Darr handling those added responsibilities, Philbin said.
They’re probably safe in doing so. He’s a natural athlete.
A native of Bakersfield, California, Darr graduated from Frontier High School as the two-time reigning state champion in the shot put; he also won the state discus championship as a junior.
But football was his true passion, and he played defense and special teams for a Frontier team that reached the state title game his senior season.
“Those days are long gone and that’s high school football, but I’d like to think I have enough to take down a breakaway [returner] or something like that,” Darr said with a chuckle.
Still, Darr knew early on that his path to the NFL would be traveled by putting his best (kicking) foot forward.
Darr was a MaxPreps first-team All-American and hailed by kicking guru Chris Sailer as the nation’s No. 1 punting prospect of his high school class.
He chose the University of Tennessee, and after a redshirt first year, he was the team’s regular punter in his first year on the active roster.
Yet he lost the job after struggling as a sophomore, and didn’t have a single punt as a junior.
But Darr got one last chance after the graduation of Michael Palardy, who was ahead of him at Tennessee. And while he wasn’t great — Darr ranked 55th nationally in punting average nationally as a senior (42.2) -- he showed enough to earn a workout with special teams coordinator Darren Rizzi before the draft.
Even still, he has been largely an afterthought outside Dolphins headquarters. When Fields agreed to a pay cut before the start of free agency, most assumed the job would be his, even after a down 2014.
But when the coaching staff discovered that they could trust Darr to do the job just as well as — and far cheaper than — Fields, they made the move.
“Brandon’s a great punter,” Darr said. “But, at the same time, I kind of look at myself as a separate entity from Brandon. We’re different players, different people, but we both have unique skill sets. Brandon’s really successful. If I have half the career that he’s had, I’ll be happy.”