Joe Sturniolo is an Assistant Coach for the Westminster Wildcats in Atlanta, Georgia who spends his time and energy entirely on kickers, punters, and long snappers. This is a rarity because the vast majority, an estimated 0.31% of high school teams have a devoted coach for teaching specialists. This episode of the Simple Kicking Show explores the story behind how it happened, and the tools in the toolbox that have been most helpful for Coach Sturno and the kickers. This kind of story is the type that gets Pat Mcafee excited. In fact, it did in the early 2000s when he and Sturno crossed paths. (That story, too is discussed on this episode.)
An additional example of Westminster’s rarity is how the program is a talent hotbed for kickers. Coach Sturno has produced a dozen Division 1 and/or NFL kickers over the past 20 years, which has effectively coined the name for Westminster as “Kicker U.”
Led by head coach Gerry Romberg, the program emphasizes special teams and dedicates sufficient resources to plays that take place on 4th down. The kickers and punters work hard, based on the natural athletic abilities that come with them, but Coach Sturno’s passion has contributed to the longevity of “Kicker U.” Here are the most notable names that have come through the program:
Harrison Butker, Kansas City Chiefs Kicker (Georgia Tech), Blake Gillikin, New Orleans Saints Punter (Penn State), Alex Gracey, Stanford Punter, Charlie Ham, Duke Kicker, Connor Weselman, Stanford Punter Commit, and one of the nation’s top punting recruits in Alex Bacchetta.
Other collegiate kickers and or punters who played under him: Avery Bass, Illinois, Felipe Villahoz, North Carolina, Patrick Knight, All-American Punter at Rhodes College, and many others to come.
Kickers and punters are athletes. The inaugural episode of the Simple Kicking Show featured Tyler Brown, who is the Special Teams graduate assistant at the University of Michigan. Tyler, who is the son of Baltimore Ravens Special Teams Coach Randy Brown, shared that some of the best athletes have chosen to become kickers.
You can find that episode here on YouTube
Sturno agrees with Brown that kickers are athletes. An example he gives is on Harrison Butker who he believes could have been a wide receiver in high school, or how Rankin Woley who played baseball at LSU and Auburn, could have been an incredible punter. This episode is for high school coaches who understand athletes, but who may not grasp kicking because here is the good news, neither did Sturniolo when he started 20 years ago.
Sturniolo was the head statistician for the Atlanta Falcons and Georgia Tech Football shortly before he became an assistant coach at Westminster. This involved work with the Southeastern Conference and the Sugar Bowl when it was forced to be moved due to Hurricane Katrina to the Georgia Dome in the early 2006. Sturno attributes his knowledge to learning from books, DVDs, YouTube videos, clinics and crossing paths with Matt Bryant, long time kicker for the Atlanta Falcons.
As kickers are frequently left to the side, Coach Sturno saw an opportunity to develop them. He disagrees that “practice makes perfect”; instead, he sees that developing good habits leads to better on the field performance in games which is his goal as a guide to the players, otherwise a coaching absence creates a vacuum that actually causes bad habits to solidify.
If you are a high school kicking recruit, a high school head football coach, then this episode is for you to explore ways to improve your own team based on Coach Sturno’s experience.
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