By Philip Sikes // Athletic Communications
An often overlooked part of a team’s defense is the punter. A quality punter can either pin an opponent deep in its territory, or help his offense by booming one when backed up inside its own half of the field.
Clemson has the luxury of one such punter that has shown the ability to do both.
Bradley Pinion stands tall above the competition - literally. The Tiger junior is 6-foot-6, as tall as any punter you’ll find in college football. But it’s not his height and booming leg that impresses the most, it’s his ability to consistently pin the opposition inside the 20.
In 2013, his first season as Clemson’s starting punter, Pinion dropped 24 kicks inside the opponent’s 20 without a single touchback. In fact, he’s yet to have a touchback in two full seasons with the program.
So what’s his secret?
“It’s called an Aussie punt,” he said. “It goes end over end and either hits and goes sideways or backwards. I have to give credit to our snapper and our two gunners; they get down there and cover the ball. I can put it down there, but if it bounces and rolls in, I can’t do anything about that.”
Believe it or not, Pinion began working on such scenarios as a young man.
“My dad used to put Hula hoops in the corners inside the five, and he’d make me try and land it in them,” he said. “It’s something I practiced as a little kid. I waited for the right opportunity to use it. In high school, it was mostly 50-yard punts. All the work I put in at a young age has paid off now in college.”
Only two punters in Clemson history (David Sims, 1979 and Kevin Laird, 1996) have placed as many as 24 punts in a single season inside the 20-yard line.
Pinion hasn’t been kicking his entire life. He first played club and recreational league soccer, but that all changed when his mother bought him a football for Christmas as a sixth-grader.
“That’s how it started, when mom got me my first football,” he said. “I went out to a football field at a high school. My dad figured I was going to throw it. I told him I wanted to kick it. He put the ball on his foot and had me line up for a 35-yarder. I knocked it through the first time. He said, ‘Do that again.’ He put it on his foot again, and I made it a second time. He wouldn’t let me kick anymore that day; he said he was going to get me some help right away. I started going to kicking camps after that.”
Pinion earned USA Today All-America honors at Northwest Cabarrus High School in Concord, N.C., after averaging over 45 yards per punt his senior year. He signed with the Tigers in 2012, and didn’t waste time seeing any action. He worked at both punter and kickoff specialist, backing up senior Spencer Benton for both jobs as a rookie.
“Coach Swinney and Coach Pearman did a great job getting me acclimated for a year,” he said. “I had a little bit of nerves that first year. After that first game my sophomore year (against Georgia), it was smooth sailing from there.”
Pinion spent the summer working with kicking specialist Dan Orner, whom he considers “one of the best coaches in the country” and almost like a second father figure. Pinion said his goal this season is to become more consistent, while continuing to put the opposition in precarious positions.
After all, that’s what quality punters do for a team.