DURHAM — Once punter Will Monday survived the worst that could have happened, special teams coordinator Ron Middleton knew he would be fine.
Saturday night at Stanford, Drew Terrell returned Mondays first punt of the game 76 yards for a touchdown.
The 50-yard punt wasnt exactly placed where it was supposed to be, Monday said, and then he found out firsthand how fast college punt returners run.
First of all, everyone is shocked, Middleton said. Were in a state of shock because our most important special teams unit is the punt team. Its the most volatile. Its the last play of offense and the first play of defense. Its huge. To not execute it, I mean, thats the worst thing that can happen to you right there, to get one returned for a touchdown. And then to understand that thats the first punt of the day, weve got a lot more punts to go.
Middleton asked his redshirt freshman to get the ball a little more up and a little more over. Monday flashed him a thumbs up and told him he got it.
He punted six more times that game. And Stanford only was able to return half of those for 24 yards.
He was phenomenal after that, Middleton said. He had punts that were amazing.
After three games, Monday is averaging 45.63 yards per punt, 10th-best in the nation. No other freshman is among the top 40.
Im very pleased with my stats so far, nothing to be ashamed of, Monday said with a smile. Im very proud. Theres always room to improve I feel like but right now, Im blessed, Im fortunate.
Monday was the No. 1-rated high school punter coming out of Flowery Branch, Ga. It won a state title during Mondays sophomore year, giving the converted soccer goalie a stage to showcase his booming leg. At 6-foot-4, 210 pounds, Monday has the size, strength and leg speed to consistently change field position. Seven of 16 punts have traveled at least 50 yards this year.
He has the mindset, too.
He has the ability to focus, said Jamie Kohl, a kicking instructor who has worked with Monday since high school. At a lot of our events, we try to present a platform as a stage where there is going to be one or two guys who capture that moment, and Ive see him do it quite a bit. That, to me, is a sign of someone that will succeed in college because every time a team is backed up or needs a big punt, he will have the ability to be a performer.
Monday keeps tabs on other punters he knows Alex King at Texas (who was second-team All-ACC at Duke last year) and the guys at Baylor, Iowa State, Alabama, Miami and Florida. None of them have matched Mondays yardage.
And for Monday, this is just the beginning.
Seems each week he is getting better and better, Middleton said. His confidence is building. Hes just a phenomenal talent.
Freshman safety Corbin McCarthy had surgery to repair a labral tear in his left shoulder. He will miss the rest of the season.