By RICK PETERSON
Punter is one of those rare positions on a football team where you hope you're not needed.
"I didn't punt at all against Lincoln and I'm OK with that,'' said Washburn University sophomore punter Jake Zeller, a Holton product, "There's games where I'm like, 'You know what, if I don't have to punt that's A-OK with me.'
"You've just got to be ready at all times.''
And when WU does need to punt, the Ichabods are confident Zeller's going to deliver.
Zeller won Washburn's punting job as a true freshman and averaged a respectable 41.9 yards on 41 attempts, with 10 punts of 50 or more yards and 14 inside the 20-yard-line.
But Zeller has taken a big step forward this fall, leading the MIAA with a 47.1-yard average after a monster game in last Saturday's 27-21 loss at Nebraska-Kearney.
Against the Lopers, Zeller averaged 52 yards on three punts, including an 81-yard effort that ranks third all-time at Washburn behind a pair of 87-yarders.
"When I hit it I was kind of like, 'It's not a good hit,' '' Zeller said. "I watched it and I counted it out and I think it was 42 yards where it landed. Then it rolled the rest of the way. When it landed I was like, 'It's not a bad hit, not a terrible hit,' but when it hit and started rolling I was like, 'Please, just keep going, just keep going, just keep going.'
"Granted, I had some wind at my back, but a punt's a punt and they don't put whether it rolled or was in the air.''
The UNK game was a continuation of Zeller's hot start for the 1-4 Ichabods, who will host Missouri Western at 3 p.m. Saturday in the annual Hall of Fame game.
Zeller has already forced opponents to take seven fair catches on his 13 attempts, with two punts inside the 20 and three over 50 yards.
"I've been working my tail off and my coach, Steve Block, has been working his tail off as a coach and taking videos of me and really explaining the steps to enhance my abilities to kick a football,'' Zeller said. "It's just technique and changing the way I drop the ball to where my leg swing is at, everything like that.
"I've put all those new things I've been getting taught into this year and I think it's helped a lot. I feel very good, I feel very confident in my ability to kick a football.''
In addition to working with Block, Zeller has also sought the assistance of other kicking experts and is proud of the progress he's made since beginning his career at Holton.
"I know in high school that I didn't really have much guidance,'' he said. "I went to a few camps and I got ranked coming out of high school, but I didn't really start pursuing kicking a football until going into my senior year. That's when I kind of got heavy on it.
"But just getting here and working with Steve and making the new connections that I've made with the people that I've met and the people that Steve knows, I've bettered myself 110 percent and this has been a really good spot for me here. I've got a lot of good people around me that know a lot of good things.''