Michigan freshman punter Will Hagerup keeps in touch with last year's All-American, Zoltan Mesko
Freshman punter Will Hagerup isn’t trying to be the next Zoltan Mesko, the All-American who now is with the New England Patriots. He's content to use his first season with the Michigan football team to make a name for himself in a special teams department filled with question marks.
Hagerup already has garnered plenty of praise from Michigan coach Rich Rodriguez. His coach's confidence aside, Hagerup acknowledged in a recent chat with AnnArbor.com that his success is ultimately up to him.
A: He's obviously about as good as you can get at the position and being a team player. He's the best model I could look after, and so it's really an honor for me to get that opportunity and to go to a place where people actually kind of care about the punting game.
Q: Did you get a chance to spend much time with Zoltan and to pick his brain at all about the craft that you share?
A: Every time I visited while I was recruited, I would see him and he was the guy that took me around when I made my official visit. We talk maybe once a week, and I'll ask him how the NFL is going and he'll ask me how practice is going. And just to have a guy like that that has done everything so right here give pointers to me is pretty invaluable.
Q: What's the biggest thing you take from him? Do you talk about technique or other aspects of punting or is it more general?
A: Every punter's form is different, and so I take more general things from him. He came here and not only was he an All-American, but he was an Academic All-American and he was loved by everyone. He kind of had all three things going for him, and I think in the big picture that's really what matters.
Q: Coach Rodriguez said that if you don't deliver punts that cover a lot of ground and register a certain hang time, you're pretty upset with yourself. True or false?
A: If you're playing another position, you get another play to kind of prove yourself if you screw up. If I'm punting one to four times every game, everything, hopefully, pretty much has to be perfect. So when I'm out at practice, I may punt 25 or 30 balls, but I envision myself like I'm in the game. So when I don't have a good punt, I get a little down on myself. Here, there's more of a stress on self-coaching, and so after punt, I'll think about what I did right or what I did wrong. So it's important for me to be hard on myself.
Q: How hard is it to put yourself in front of 110,000 fans when you're at practice just surrounded by your teammates?
A: In some ways, when you have a live rush out here on the practice field, that gives you a pretty good idea of the game speed. But being (inside Michigan Stadium during scrimmages), you realize it's a bigger-than-life place, and I don't think anything will fully prepare me for 110,000 people. But I just mentally try and put myself in that position. Every night before I go to bed, every time before I punt, I try and think about that, but nothing is going to prepare me for the nerves I'm going to feel against UConn.
Jeff Arnold covers sports for AnnArbor.com and can be reached at (734) 623-2554 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @jeffreyparnold.