Ravens punter Jordan Stout nudged Sam Koch into retirement. Their relationship couldn't be any better. – Baltimore Sun
There’s a story Sam Koch tells about the day when his eyes opened to the depth of knowledge required to be an elite NFL punter.
It was the spring of 2008, and the Ravens had just brought in a new special teams coach, Jerry Rosburg. Koch had been the starting punter for two years and a pretty good one, he thought. So this unfamiliar coach asked him to quote his numbers. “That is very impressive and remarkable for sucking so bad with fundamentals,” Rosburg told Koch.
This blunt, potentially awkward exchange planted seeds for the Wolfpack, the detail-obsessed, relentlessly excellent unit that would include Koch, kicker Justin Tucker and long snapper Morgan Cox.
Now that he’s a Ravens coach, Koch needs only think back to his conversation with Rosburg if he wants to empathize with his pupil and successor, Jordan Stout.
Stout has a one-in-10-million leg and breezy confidence to go with it, but like the younger Koch, he showed up in Baltimore thinking he knew more about punting, and especially holding for kickers, than he actually did. Like the younger Koch, his mind blew wide-open when he understood how much goes into the craft, at least as it’s taught and practiced by the Ravens.
Fortunately for Stout, he can turn to the older Koch as a daily guide.
Ravens punter Sam Koch, center, celebrates his retirement with kicker Justin Tucker, left, and former long snapper Morgan Cox. “I’m more happy now than I ever was playing football,” Koch said of his new job as a Ravens assistant coach. (Kevin Richardson / Baltimore Sun)
It’s a highly unusual relationship by the NFL’s cutthroat standards: the 40-year-old who thought he was going to be the Ravens’ punter this year not only stepped aside gladly, he immediately became counselor to the 24-year-old who nudged him into retirement.
As Koch strode into the lobby of the Ravens’ training facility to chat on a recent morning, his taut physique and iron handshake still suggested an athlete in his prime, a notion backed up by the smart-bomb punts he occasionally drops during practice drills. But he described the radiating joy he feels in his new life, with less professional stress, more time for his family and the chance to pass decades of accumulated wisdom to a new-generation punter whom he likes and respects. Koch played in more games as a Raven than anyone in the 26-year history of the franchise, and no one would have blamed him for resenting Stout’s arrival.
“Not at all,” he said. “I was down at my son’s camp. They gave me a call. And I’m like, ‘Perfect, I’m done with football.’ I’m more happy now than I ever was playing football.”
Stout was nervous about his first communication with Koch because he assumed they would compete for the job, much as Tucker and Billy Cundiff dueled to be the Ravens’ kicker in the summer of 2012. Instead, Koch’s initial text message could not have been friendlier.
“The attitude he’s had toward me has just been unbelievable,” Stout said. “He’s never once been negative. He never brings himself up, never compares us.”
Instead of rivals, they would become partners, Stout learning the diligent routine necessary to thrive in the NFL’s most rigorous kicking unit and Koch learning to teach.
Ravens punter Jordan Stout, center, works with former punter Sam Koch, left, and kicking coach Randy Brown at practice on Wednesday. “For me, when you find a punter, you hear a punter,” Brown said, referring to the satisfying thud made when connecting with a football. (Kevin Richardson / Baltimore Sun)
No one has a more intimate view of their dynamic than Tucker, and he said Koch’s worth as a coach was apparent from Day 1: “To have that experience from the inside out, now he’s able to take the 10,000-foot view and apply all of that to what we’re doing now. The value that Sam has added to our operation has been … it’s immeasurable.”
Like most who excel at the position, Stout did not grow up knowing punting would be his destiny. He was a youth soccer star in Abingdon, Virginia, with dreams of becoming the next David Beckham. A coach with international experience told Stout’s parents he had never seen a 12-year-old strike a soccer ball so cleanly. He did not give football much thought until the quarterback at Honaker High stopped by soccer practice one afternoon in search of kicking candidates. The upperclassman asked Stout to attempt a 40-yard field goal. When he pounded the ball through the uprights, a new athletic path opened. Not only did he kick and punt for the school team, he and his dad, Rodney, made an eight-hour round trip to Charlottesville almost every Sunday so he could train with a specialist named Jimmy Howell.
This spoke to the seriousness of Stout’s goals. Even then, he thought in terms of college scholarships and a professional future.
“I remember in seventh grade, they were having prom, and I gave him the choice: ‘You have a soccer tournament this weekend or you can go to prom,’” Rodney Stout recalled. “But he always chose to go play. He would say, ‘I’d like to go to prom, but I have to go train.’”
“It’s all I ever thought about,” Stout said. “If I didn’t have that mindset, I wouldn’t make it.”
His belief was so strong that it led to friction at Virginia Tech, where he started his college career as a walk-on, with his mother working three jobs to help pay his tuition.
“My goal is to play in the NFL, and I’m not going to do that if I’m not starting,” he told a coach at the start of his sophomore year. Don’t worry about the pros, the guy responded. “So I transferred,” Stout recalled, laughing.
“The attitude he’s had toward me has just been unbelievable,” Ravens rookie punter Jordan Stout, pictured, said of his mentor, Sam Koch, who retired this year to make way for the fourth-round draft pick. “He’s never once been negative. He never brings himself up, never compares us.” (Kevin Richardson / Baltimore Sun)
He joined a talent-laden kicking unit at Penn State, eventually winning both the kicker and punter jobs and rewriting the program’s punting records. When Ravens kicking coach Randy Brown scouted Stout, his mind flashed back almost two decades to a workout he conducted at the University of Nebraska with a guy named Sam Koch.
“For me, when you find a punter, you hear a punter,” Brown said, referring to the satisfying thud made when connecting with a football. It didn’t matter that Stout had the flowing mane of a surfing champion rather than Koch’s closely shaved pate; he delivered the goods where it mattered.
But if the Ravens were going to draft Koch’s replacement, Brown had to be convinced of more than the thump in Stout’s leg. He talked with him again and again, spoke to his parents. He needed to know Stout would fit into the collegial but exacting culture Tucker, Koch and long snappers Cox and Nick Moore had created over 10 years together. The newcomer had to be equal parts confident and open to blunt coaching. As Brown came to the conclusion Stout was this guy, he kept Koch, whom he considers one of his closest friends, in the loop. The incumbent punter was not surprised when the Ravens called Stout’s name in the fourth round of the draft.
Koch only needed to watch a few punts from Stout’s college tape to be convinced of his successor’s skill.
“He brought a lot of the same punting abilities that I did. The way he approached a football and struck a football was very similar,” Koch said. “He had a great foundation.”
Now, the former punter had to figure out how to be a coach. Koch doesn’t like leaving anything to chance. Whether it’s mowing the lawn at his home in Carroll County, playing cornhole in the Ravens’ locker room or delivering a retirement speech, he must prepare to do the thing well. He wanted to mix that brutal honesty he learned from Rosburg with the encouraging tone he had adopted while coaching his kids. He’s still calculating when to interject and when to give Stout room to find a solution independently.
The pupil feels his teacher has judged this dance well: “I feel like it would be hard to just pick up coaching after you’ve been playing 16 years, but it’s seamless for him. … Let’s say I make a mistake, or I consistently make a mistake that he wouldn’t have made, he never once says, ‘Oh, well, if I was out there, I would be doing this.’ He’s always like, ‘Hey, Jordan, this is what you did; let’s fix it next time.’ He’s not trying to turn me into him, which is unbelievable.”
Ravens special teams coordinator Chris Horton, left, checks out rookie punter Jordan Stout during warmups before the preseason opener against the Titans. Stout punted brilliantly for much of training camp and the preseason, his balls soaring majestically and then dropping dead a few yards from the goal line. (Kevin Richardson / Baltimore Sun)
With the regular season looming, all parties seem convinced they have found the ideal working arrangement.
“I never stood on that field at Heinz Field, when the wind was just ridiculous in Pittsburgh,” Brown said when asked what unique element Koch brings to coaching Stout. “Sam can communicate with him, ‘Hey, these were the number of pregame punts, this is how I feel on second down and third down.’ Jordan having that much information, there is no price tag for that.”
Stout punted brilliantly for much of training camp and the preseason, his balls soaring majestically and then dropping dead a few yards from the goal line. Any punt that does not pin his opponent inside the 10-yard line he considers less than ideal. So the 50-yarder he hit to trap the Arizona Cardinals on their 3-yard line in the Ravens’ second preseason game was basically his idea of an ice-cream sundae.
Holding for Tucker proved to be more of an adventure. Stout thought he’d worked hard to perfect this more arcane element of the job before he arrived in Baltimore (and Brown agrees he was above the typical NFL standard). What does he think now?
“I was not good at holding,” he said, laughing again. “I went back and watched film and god I was bad. I kept missing the spot.”
Tucker is often called the greatest kicker in league history, but he has said repeatedly that he could not have set his standard without Koch placing the ball exactly as he wanted it on attempt after attempt, no matter the field or weather conditions. Rosburg has called Koch the greatest holder in NFL history. In other words, there’s real pressure on Stout not to derail this exquisite machine.
“You’re expected to be perfect every time,” he said. “Receivers drop the ball, but if a holder drops the ball, the world is going to end.”
He already sounds like Tucker, describing how he has to set that big picture aside and break the craft down to its component parts, each repeatable in any context.
“You just do your job,” Stout said, “and you know he’s going to make that kick.”
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Former Ravens punter Sam Koch working with the special teams at practice on Thursday. (Kevin Richardson / Baltimore Sun)
Copyright © 2022, Baltimore Sun
Copyright © 2022, Baltimore Sun