(Editor's Note: This piece by Ryan Harper is one of a sporadic series we'll be posting on Cincy Jungle. We want to give some personal and professional background on some Bengals players that we like to follow--especially those that tend to be overshadowed by other teammates. Enjoy.)
Let's travel back a few years to 2009. This was the year the Bengals made the playoffs, thanks to a veteran squad that was led by Carson Palmer, Chad Ochocinco, Cedric Benson, Dhani Jones and Johnathan Joseph. At the time, the Bengals looked like a team with real potential for sustained success. They were a team on a mission to annihilate their opponents with precision aerial assaults, aggressive ground attacks, and brutal defensive hits. But one element that seemed to go unnoticed was special teams.
Cincinnati opened up the season at home against the Denver Broncos. During Cincinnati's first drive, with the Bengals in a 3rd-and-10 situation, Palmer took a five-step drop into the developing pocket, but failed to complete the throw to wide receiver Laveranues Coles. The Bengals were on Denver's 47 yard-line, facing a 4th-and-10 situation, obviously well outside of Shayne Graham's range. So instead of going for it, they called upon a rookie punter by the name of Kevin Huber.
Huber dropped a beauty of a punt, arching the punt, 31 yards and trapping the football well inside Denver's 20-yard line. This was the first punt of Huber's professional career.
Huber is a homegrown talent who has always been hooked on punting. He was born and raised in Cincinnati, having attended McNicholas High School where he became a three-time All-League selection while playing for coach John Rodenburg. He received the honor as the league's Punter of the Year during his final two seasons of his high school career. During that final season, he helped the Rockets gain a berth in the state playoffs. But unlike many high school football players, his dream of playing football didn't end at the high school level.
"I've been punting almost my whole life. I started off playing soccer back in grade school. kindergarten. I was always the goalie because I wasn't the fastest, but I could kick the ball farthest. There's some kicking in the family. My dad was a kicker, tight end at Xavier, when they had a team. My brother played for a little bit at Mt. Saint Joe. My sister played soccer at Davidson College. My other sister played soccer in high school. And I've got to keep my mom in there. She was a kickball champion in grade school. My grandma wanted me to say that. She was a kickball champion. So I guess kicking runs in the family," Huber said.
Upon his graduation from McNicholas, Huber decided to stay local by enrolling at the University of Cincinnati, where he redshirted as a freshman, but eventually earned Conference USA Commissioner's Academic Honor Roll. Not to be discouraged by this outcome, Huber returned the following year, even seeing action during two games.
On Sept. 1, 2005 Huber was one of 16 Bearcats to make their collegiate debut against the Eastern Michigan Eagles. During that game, Huber saw limited action as the Bearcats continued their offensive assault on the Eagles. But he did manage to make it on the field as he launched four punts against the Eagles. That was the most playing time Huber received that season until the season finale against Rutgers. He finished the season with five punts for an average of 33.2 yards. This was the first taste of the next level for Huber.
The following year Huber was relegated to backup duties as the understudy of starter Brian Steel. The only time Huber made it onto the field was against the Western Michigan Broncos in the International Bowl. During that game he catapulted two punts for 50 or more yards. The Bearcats finally discovered their punter for the next two seasons.
In 2007, as a junior it was Huber's time to shine as he was named the starting punter by head coach Brian Kelly. That year he started his ascent into the national spotlight as he punted the ball 57 times for 2,672 yards and lead the nation in punting with an average of 46.9 yards, which also set a new record for the Bearcats. His efforts helped him become a finalist for The Ray Guy Award, the official national punting title. He also garnered the Big East Special Teams Player of the Year recognition.
"I can't tell you how many times I'm tempted to go for it. It's against my nature [to punt]. But when you've got a guy like Kevin Huber who can pin the football, it forces [your opponent] to play flawless," said UC head coach Brian Kelly.
After finishing his stellar junior campaign, Huber wanted to prove to coaches and scouts that he wasn't a one-hit wonder. He didn't let up as he relentlessly tied down opponents with the power of his leg and earned a reputation of being able to change the field position instantly.
As a senior, Huber continued his dominance as he ranked seventh in the nation with a 44.9 yard average on 60 punts. Of his 60 punts, 24 of them were downed inside the 20-yard line, another 15 inside the 10-yard line, and seven placed inside the 5-yard line.
Once the Bearcats season concluded in a disappointing 20-7 loss to the Virginia Tech Hokies in the Orange Bowl, Huber decided to pursue a career at the next level as the business and finance major decided to put all of his eggs in one basket in hopes of hearing his name called by commissioner Roger Goodell.
In order to help ease his mind and keep him distracted from the draft, Huber went out with his brother and two other friends to play a round of golf. Finally, in the fifth round of the draft Huber was selected by his hometown team, the Cincinnati Bengals with the 142nd overall pick. The Bengals made an unprecedented move by their standards when they selected a punter during the draft for the first time since 2004 when they drafted Travis Dorsch out of Purdue University in the fourth round.
"It's awesome. I grew up in Cincinnati. I was born and raised. I'd never have dreamed I would be playing for my hometown team. It's like a dream come true. I get to stay home, stay close to my family -- my support staff. So it's going to be awesome to be able to play in front of them for all those games. I'm really looking forward to it," said Huber upon finding out Cincinnati selected him during the draft.
Typically teams will find their future punter after the draft has concluded because kickers and punters are a dime-a-dozen. However, for the Bengals, improving special teams was a priority that could no longer be ignored.
"We're real excited. We feel Kevin has a great potential, a strong leg, all the things we're looking for. And he'll have a chance to come in here and compete for a job. It's an area we want to improve in," said Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis.
The Bengals showed their faith in the young punter by releasing five-year veteran Kyle Larson who struggled the previous two seasons for Cincinnati. And Huber hasn't looked back since.
"I really like his mentality. Obviously, the familiarity with kicking in this city helps. He's spent his whole career here. He's spent his whole life here. I feel very comfortable with him mentally and I think that's so important, especially for these young guys," said Bengals special teams coach Darrin Simmons.
Since arriving in the Queen City, Huber has given the Bengals another deadly weapon by averaging 43.3 yards/punt in three seasons. As a rookie he punted the ball 86 times for 3,713 yards for an average of 43.2 yards, as his dominance from college transferred to the next level. On Sept. 20, 2009 Huber demonstrated why the Bengals drafted him and put their faith in him.
During that game against the Green Bay Packers, Huber averaged 46.3 yards on four punts. Two of his punts proved to be key turning points for the Bengals. With the game tied at 21 he trapped the Packers inside the 5-yard line on a 48-yard kick. That forced the Packers hand as the pressure continued to mount. Cincinnati forced a fumble on that drive and scored a go-ahead touchdown off the turnover. Then in the fourth quarter with the Bengals clinging to a seven-point lead, Huber followed his previous punt attempt with a 56-yard kick that pinned Green Bay inside their own 20-yard line. His performance demonstrated the value of having a dominant punter that can change the strategy of a game with one swift kick.
This past season Huber saw the most action in his young career as he punted the ball 91 times for 4,023 yards for an average of 44.2 yards. He finished the year with 24 punts inside the 20-yard line as he proved to be a valuable asset for Cincinnati once again.
A majority of the time, punters are always disregarded because all they do is kick the ball a few times during a game. But there's so much more that goes into punting. The punter has to be familiar with the weather, field conditions, and more importantly his opponents. Punters have to be aware of the distance, the power behind each kick, and the necessary amount of hang time to allow their team to get down field in order to stop the opponents. Without all of this knowledge, teams are faced with uphill struggles.
And there has been one piece of advice from his high school coach that has stuck with him and proven to be true, "You will never make football a career if you aren't consistent." And fortunately, for Huber and the Bengals, he has been one of their most consistent weapons for the past three seasons.