Meet the New Steeler: Punter Will Monday
As W. S. Gilbert, the librettist half of the Gilbert and Sullivan of operetta fame might say, a punter’s lot is not a happy one. Few fans appreciates what a punter does until he does something unfortunate. Even fewer fans want to “waste” draft selections on a punter, and some misguided (in my opinion, at least) fans are still bemoaning the use of a fourth-round pick on Daniel Sepulveda. Just in handsomeness, Sepulveda more than paid his way, at least for a certain segment of the fan base of which I am a member.
And when the game is on the line and you need to pin the opposing team deep in their own end zone, like, say, in the Steelers-Broncos game last January, all of a sudden it would be really nice to have a punter who could reliably do so. Someone like, say, the Ravens’ Sam Koch, who was one of the top punters in the league last season. And whatta you know—the Ravens spent a sixth-round pick on him. The top punter in the league, or close, most years seems to be the Colts’ Pat McAfee, and they spent a seventh-round pick on him. I’m not casting aspersions on our recent punters, just noting that it is easy to undervalue the position.
I’m also not down on Jordan Berry. He wasn’t amazing last season, but his stats placed him somewhere in the middle of the pack, depending on what you value the most. He didn’t excel at hang time or average kick length, but he was very good for most of the season in placement, generating only two touchbacks. Unfortunately, one of those was in the aforementioned Broncos game. In his defense, he injured his shoulder during that game sufficiently to require surgery after the season ended, and toughed it out. Being in a lot of pain and under a lot of pressure has to mess with your head.
He also had a relatively low number of return yards against and a good proportion of fair catches. So there’s that. But in a league where small advantages can make the ultimate difference in a win or loss, it’s not surprising that the Steelers would like to get more out of that facet of the game. The punt defenders have seemingly improved a good bit, and several of Berry’s punts where the other team was pinned deep were thanks to great saves by the punt team.
So while I think the Steelers have what Mike Tomlin would term a “level of comfort” with Berry, they almost never fail to bring in some competition anyhow. Ironically, last season they didn’t bother to do so for the place kicker position, and doubtless regretted it, about the time they were on their third kicker.
Enter Will Monday. Although he is being brought in for competition, you never know. Even in some of the more glamorous positions, occasionally someone brought in as a “camp body” surprises everyone. So let’s find out a bit more about this young man.
It may astonish you to hear this, but he is not from Australia—he is from Flowery Branch, Georgia. He excelled in high school and was Scout.com’s top punter in the nation prior to college. Like so many members of recent Steelers classes, he was an all-around athlete. He played baseball, basketball and soccer before trying out as a kicker for his high school football team as a freshman. He switched from kicking to punting as a sophomore in high school.
He had many scholarship offers, but chose Duke because of the academic aspect as well as football. He lettered in his four seasons on the team. (He was not active in 2011, his first year at Duke.) He garnered a number of honors while there, including the highest average in Duke history. He’s got quite a leg, nailing a 79-yard punt in the Belk Bowl. He also completed four out of five pass attempts, so he’s a good candidate for punt fakes to, say, Alejandro Villanueva. He was also the holder for field goals.
He seems to have made the most of his experience at Duke, including academically—he graduated last December with a degree in sociology. His third year on the team (2014) was perhaps his weakest, which isn’t too surprising. It had been a very difficult one for him, as his uncle died of cancer and his mother was also diagnosed with cancer. That would knock anyone back.
His mother lost her battle with cancer in early April of this year:
During momma’s life & battle w/ cancer she was the greatest example of how our strength comes from the Lord! Today I’ll need every bit of it
— William Monday (@William_M41) April 9, 2016
A few weeks later he received an opportunity that I’m sure he wished he could share with his mom:
Excited to say I’m going to be a @steelers Unbelievable opportunity with and extraordinary franchise
— William Monday (@William_M41) April 30, 2016
One of the things I hate about these camp battles is that somebody has to lose them. Hopefully neither of these young men do so as Shaun Suisham did this year, before it even began. I really hope that which ever one of these two wins the job, the other will find a good home, in the way that Brad Wing ended up with the Giants. But the time for cuts is still more than a month away, so let’s put such unpleasant thoughts aside for now. Welcome to the Steelers, Will, and may the best man win.
And just for the heck of it, here’s the 79-yard punt. We can’t really expect these sorts of punts on a regular basis, but it’s nice to know it’s possible.