This year's NFL Draft features several talented prospects that will receive loads of media coverage, commercial endorsements and large fanfare. For the likes of punters, long snappers and kickers, the process is a bit different. Most teams keep one of each, meaning that there are just 96 combined spots for the three position in the NFL. That is why a player with the ability to play both punter and kicker is so valuable.
West Texas A&M's Kevin Van Voris is one of several special teams prospects working out at regional combines and pro days across the country this offseason. A potential 26-year-old rookie by the time next season gets underway, the punter/kicker has had an unusual journey to the league compared to most prospects. The NCAA co-leader in kickoff touchbacks during the 2013 season started his college career on a community college soccer team in Kansas. He lasted a semester before dropping out and working a normal everyday job.
After a little while of living a "regular" life, the competitive juices kicked back in and forced Van Voris into joining the Division II ranks as a punter and kickoff specialist. A man with a "big leg" and no shortage of confidence, Van Voris finished third in the nation in punt average (45.2) as a senior and had a college career long of 74 yards. This led Van Voris to chase his dream of being drafted in the NFL.
While it is very rare for NFL teams to draft special teams players, Van Voris is a unique prospect. He proved during his college career to be a proficient punter and kickoff specialist. He also left his mark on scouts and NFL.com by connecting on consecutive field goals of 35, 40, 45, 50, 55 and 60 yards at the Houston Regional Combine alongside his brother and fellow kicker prospect David Van Voris (currently of the IFL's Green Bay Blizzard). He is now headed to the Super Regional Combine in Detroit due his great performance in Houston and he has a shot of being one of the standout special teams players of the draft process if he performs well there and at his Pro Day.
Van Voris joined BGN's Mike Kaye to talk about his career, his unusual path to college football, kicking technique and his training to become the next great kicker (or punter) in the NFL. Below is the Q&A with Van Voris:
Mike Kaye: You've had a different kind of path than most prospects to college football. Can you talk about your college career and journey to West Texas A&M?
Kevin Van Voris: "When I was in my last year of high school, I wasn't really sure what I wanted to do as far as playing a sport. I had been playing soccer since I was about three [years old], so soccer has always been my first love. Football kind of just came to me by my football coach just asking me to kick field goals. So before that, I had never even kicked. So when I graduated high school, I still wasn't sure what to do. I ended up going to Kansas and playing college soccer at one of the top-ranked community colleges in the nation. I had an okay experience there but I kind of dropped out of college itself after the first semester and kind of just worked a regular job, worked 9 to 5 and just kind of made regular wages, nothing fancy.
I kind of got sick and tired of [my job] and was kind of just sick of living a regular life. Especially as someone who doesn't have a degree, you're kind of limited as far as what you can do. So I just contacted a bunch a Division II schools [because of eligibility running out] and sent out my high school film and just waited for the [schools] to contact me back. After they contacted me back, I made a list of 10 and then a list of five. I finally made my decision to go to West Texas A&M because of their reputation that they have, as far winning and producing players to the NFL. I think that's the biggest thing to have players on your team previously go to the NFL. Just because you have a winning team, it doesn't mean anything but I was more interested because of who they had sent to the NFL."
MK: West Texas A&M, as you said, has recently produced NFL talent like Bryan Braman (Texans), J'Marcus Webb (Vikings) and Eugene Sims (Rams). Have you talked to any former members of the team about the NFL and what to expect?
KVV: "I am actually really close to [wide receiver] Britton Golden, who plays for the Cardinals. Also, [wide receiver] Steven Burton of the Jacksonville Jaguars. When they use to come into town, I use to pick their brains in anyway I could and the biggest thing [that] they would say is 'Just remember the NFL is a business and that it's not like you're playing for your school. You're there to make money and you should always be training hard and just because you get cut, doesn't mean you're not good. It could be that [teams] don't have the money or they could have too many players.'"
MK: What type of kicker are you? We know you come from soccer but are you a straight soccer-style kicker? What made you take up kicking and punting?
KVV: "I think it's like the typical soccer player turned football player [style]. I was on the varsity [high school] soccer team in California and my brother [David] and I have always been known for our big legs. So [our high school football coach] asked us to come down and kick a field goal. After that he asked 'Can you punt?' and I said 'I can try, [but] I've never punted before.'
My style is soccer style, it's good and bad, because there is stuff you need to tweak because kicking a football is a lot different than kicking a soccer ball, just because of the shape and the way we have to hit the ball. My style is soccer style but I am trying to be more of a football style kicker as the years go on, because I always want to perfect my technique."
MK: Speaking of technique, the Eagles have a kicker, Alex Henery, who has drawn criticism for his lack of a leg or his inability to kick touchbacks and kick long field goals. What do you say is the biggest issue or variable with distance kicking?
KVV: "That's actually a really good question. People ask me 'Is it power or is it technique?' It's both but you can't teach strength. It's like fast sprinters or really fast football players, you can teach technique but there are people that are born fast [or with big legs]. You can't take a non-sprinter and make them a sprinter. I think it's the same thing with kicking, you can't take a guy with a small leg and make them have a big leg.
I just feel like that's something you're born with. You can always teach technique and technique is always coachable but I think you can't teach power as far as kicking. I think it's the same thing with a quarterback's throws. A quarterback can be accurate but they may not be able to throw bombs. You can't teach that."
MK: If a coach doesn't trust you to kick a 50-yard field goal, how do you or can you alleviate that lack of trust?
KVV: "I think the only way to earn trust is by doing it in practice. If there is a kicker that is not being allowed to kick 50-yard field goals, then the reason is because he is not able to do it in practice. It's either he's coming up short or he's putting too much into the ball that it either goes left or right of the post. That's the biggest thing, your coach needs to trust you. Especially if you are kicking long field goals, it's either at halftime or to tie the game or win the game. If your coach doesn't trust you, that's normally not a good thing (laughs)."
MK: Can you talk about what kickers do in the offseason and in preparation for the draft? A lot of casual fans just assume you guys just go out, stretch and kick balls (Van Voris laughs).
KVV: "I am sure for some people that is what they do. For me, I take my training very seriously. I get up and either run or walk everyday to get up my endurance or because I am so sore from the day before from training. I'll go out and I'll either kick, punt or do field goals and at night I do my strength training. I do leg training twice a week, which is always heavy and a lot of volume.
I feel like a lot of kickers don't do heavy weight training. I think if they did, they would probably be able to hit longer field goals maybe or even have longer distance on their kickoffs. I take my training seriously and have a certain warmup that I have to do before I kick and punt and I always have to stretch everyday. It's important for kickers to make sure their knee muscles are pliable and they stretch."
MK: Do you think your versatility to punt, kick field goals and do kickoffs with proficiency is going to help you make an NFL roster and possibly get draft?
KVV: "I have always wanted to be great at everything that I do. When I train for kickoffs, punts or field goals, I take it very seriously and I think it will help me in the NFL because you can have one kicker instead of two if you have someone that can kick and punt. I feel like I am good enough to do all three. I wouldn't say that if my averages or yardage wouldn't reflect that.
I just think an NFL coach being able to see you do all three is a huge thing, especially if the punter is hurt and you do kickoffs and field goals. Now they don't need to bring in another punter, because you can do all three."
MK: Are there teams that you have pegged that may have interest in you? Have you been scoping out teams as possible fits?
KVV: "Well as far as free agency goes, I have been keeping an eye on that. Some of the kickers are getting older, like [Colts kicker] Adam Vinatieri can no longer do kickoffs anymore. I know him and [Colts punter] Pat McAfee are both up on their contracts, so I don't know if both are going to stay. I know the Houston Texans are going to get rid of their kicker [Randy Bullocks]. There's actually like 10 teams that could probably use a new punter or a new kicker."
MK: What are your expectations for the draft? I know you are headed to your Pro Day (on March 14th at Texas A&M) and the Super Regional, but what do you think about your prospects of being drafted? Do you even want to be drafted, so you can pick your own team? Would you prefer to sign with a team based on winning or to be on the field more?
KVV: "It's always been a goal of mine, since I came back from college, to get drafted. That's my main goal. Since I did so well at the [Houston] Regional Combine, it's kind of just on me. I know that if I do well at my Pro Day and at the Super Regional, that I have a really good chance of being drafted. Two years ago, Kevin Zuerlein from the Rams, did the same thing that I am doing now and he got drafted in the sixth round. So I would love to get drafted and that's the ultimate goal. If I don't get drafted, I still feel I will get picked up."