High School Sports

Kingman punts football strategy

To punt or not to punt — is that really a question?

To me, it's never been a question. Isn't punting on fourth down like the sun rising in the east? It's just the way it is.

Not at Kingman High. Second-year coach Darby Jones, trying to give his struggling program an advantage, didn't punt at all in the first two weeks of the season.

He only quick-kicked in Weeks 3, 4 and 5.

Kingman was winless last season and is 0-5 this year, losing by a combined 292-66 to Wellington (3-2), Mulvane (4-1), Rose Hill (4-1), Circle (2-3) and Clearwater (1-4).

"We haven't been real successful here in a long time, so we were looking for something to give us an advantage," Jones said. "It made sense to me.... You see the research. Why does anybody punt?"

In the offseason, Jones had read a story on Pulaski (Ark.) Academy coach Kevin Kelley, a high school coach who never, ever punts on fourth down. Pulaski won Arkansas' Class 5A title last December.

Sports Illustrated wrote a short story on Kelley several weeks ago. That's what caught my attention. Especially when such numbers are thrown around:

* According to Sports Illustrated, Kelley has found that when punting from close to your own end zone, opponents take over inside the 40-yard line and will score touchdowns 77 percent of the time. Teams that take over on downs inside the 10, score 92 percent of the time.

"So (forsaking) a punt, you give your offense a chance to stay on the field," Kelley told Sports Illustrated. "And if you miss, the odds of the other team scoring only increase 15 (percentage points, or 19 percent). It's like someone said, '(Punting) is what you do on fourth down,' and everyone did it without asking why."

* Sports Illustrated also points to a 2005 study by economist David Romer, who published a study that said in three NFL seasons, there were 1,068 fourth-down situations in which teams would have benefited from not punting. Mathematically speaking. But only 109 times, the team went for it on fourth down.

Upon seeing such numbers Jones, a math teacher, was fascinated.

He thought, why not? If you've got four downs, why not use them all?

"We needed the mental advantage, to take a risk and take a chance and not give up," he said.

Jones met with his team before practice began in August, telling them he was doing away with the punt.

"They were shocked," he said. "They've grown up punting on fourth down, too. But nobody ever said anything. There were no questions whatsoever after that day."

Jones didn't waste time practicing the punt, so that was more time for the defense and offense.

"Most downs they don't know what down it is because they know we'll go anyway," he said.

Unfortunately, it wasn't as successful for Kingman, and Jones turned to quick kicks in Weeks 3 and 4. Against Circle, Kingman quick kicked five times and had one returned for positive yardage.

Against Clearwater on Friday, Jones planned to not punt at all.

Jones also said that Kelley only does onside kicks — not deep kickoffs — and Kingman is doing the same. Against Circle, Kingman recovered 4 of 6 onside kicks.

Certainly Jones knows it seems ridiculous to not punt.

"That's the perception just about everywhere," he said. "In a conservative community, it seems crazy. My assistant coaches have had several conversations with parents and or community members and once it's explained to them and the research and the numbers we've seen, they may or may not completely agree with it. But they understand why."

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