Punter kicks his way to Green Bay

first_imgJAKE NAUGHTON/Herald photoWith his Green Bay Packers T-shirt and Packers blankethanging as a wall decoration in his campus home, it’s easy to see that KennyDeBauche bleeds green-and-gold.So when a call from the Packer organization came around 6p.m. Sunday, the voice on the other end brought nothing but good news for theformer Wisconsin punter. Shortly after the 2008 NFL Draft had ended, Green Baysigned DeBauche to a free agent contract.“I really want this to work out for a number ofreasons, but one of the reasons is if I make the team, get the starting spot,then I won’t have to change my wardrobe much,” DeBauche joked.As a native of Suamico and graduate of Bay Port High School,DeBauche’s days as a Cheesehead date far enough back to the pre-Favre era, whenDon Majkowski was the team’s quarterback.“I remember the ‘Majik man’,” DeBauche said.“There was never a time that I can remember that I haven’t been a Packerfan.”And if things go his way, DeBauche will have the chance togo from a fan in the stands to a player on the field.DeBauche admittedly didn’t watch much of the draft. Notexpected to be chosen in any of the seven rounds — only one punter was —DeBauche instead opted to spend time with family and friends and catch up onwhat was going on back home in Green Bay.It didn’t come as much of a surprise when his name was nevercalled, nor was it when the names of a few of his former Wisconsin teammateswere.“I knew going in that that would be the case,”DeBauche said. “I knew that Taylor (Mehlhaff) was probably going to be oneof the top kickers taken if there was any kickers taken, and he was. …Whenthat happened, I just realized that I’m in a different situation than theseguys are, but something good will still happen.”An elite kicking tandemMehlhaff, a three-year starter as the Badgers’ kicker,certainly had a different experience on draft day than DeBauche. He was takenby New Orleans with the 178th overall pick in the sixth round.The kicking duo remained close through their playing days atUW, with their friendship continuing all the way up to draft day.“We’ve been working out together ever since the bowlgame leading up to Pro Day,” DeBauche said. “Taylor went to theCombine in Indianapolis, so we were working toward that. We worked toward ProDay, and we always lift and work out at the stadium together and kick andpunt.”The Saints’ special teams coach worked with both Mehlhaffand DeBauche prior to the draft. The tandem also spent time down in Arizonaworking with Gary Zauner, a kicking and punting specialist and former specialteams coach for 13 seasons with the Vikings, Ravens and Cardinals.“We went out there for three days in Arizona and kickedand punted,” DeBauche said. “That was a good experience.“Ever since Taylor’s been in school at Wisconsin — hecame here a year after I did — we’ve pretty much been doing everythingtogether. Nothing’s changed.”But with Mehlhaff going to New Orleans and DeBauche to GreenBay, the two will don different jerseys for the first time in four years.“Now that we’re on different teams, we’ll probably haveto split up a little bit, I guess,” DeBauche said.Mehlhaff was able to hear his name called on TV Sunday;DeBauche wasn’t. But that didn’t mean the punter was left in the dark as towhere he might end up.“During the draft, while the draft was still happening,I was in contact and talking to the Packers,” DeBauche said. “So oncethe draft was done, it was bang-bang, everything was done. I signed, and that’sit.”Although they were the ones to finally pull the trigger on adeal, Green Bay wasn’t the only team to express interest in DeBauche, he said.Several teams kept in touch with him prior to draft day — and one even triedto get him after he was already with the Packers.“The Lions talked to me the day after, on Monday, butthat was obviously after I had signed,” DeBauche said. “I talked tosome teams leading up to the draft. I’m not really sure what teams contacted myagent (Peter Schaffer). Once Green Bay was in the picture, we knew that that’swhat we wanted, that that would be the best situation.”Proving his worthFor any NFL rookie, making a roster is not guaranteed. Eventhe highly paid first round draft picks still have their work cut out for thembefore they’re on the team.So for a free-agent punter trying to make a team thatalready has two punters, the challenge is even greater.Aware of the road that lies ahead of him, DeBauche knowshe’ll have to demonstrate for the Green Bay coaches that what he did at CampRandall Stadium is good enough for Lambeau Field.In fact, the contract he signed doesn’t necessarily meanhe’s a part of the team; it merely gives him the chance to show what he can do.“There isn’t much that’s guaranteed in the NFL,”DeBauche said. “Right now, it’s guaranteed that I get to go up for thetraining camp this weekend and get to start competing for a spot. This is arookie mini-camp, so I think I’ll be the only punter there.”DeBauche is just the latest in a handful of Badgers to tryout for the Packers. Last year, quarterback John Stocco went as a free agent onwaivers to try and make the team. Following his unsuccessful tryout, he’s nowplaying football in Italy.A few years earlier, Kevin Stemke, another former UW punter,tried his hand at making the Packers. He’s now on the St. Louis Rams.“I’m expecting this to be the NFL. Nothing’s going tobe handed to me,” DeBauche said. “I’ll have to go there right awayand punt my best. … I don’t want to call it work, because it never will bework for me. And hopefully I won’t have to work ever, I’ll just keep playingfootball.”If he does keep playing football as a member of the Packers,he’ll be living out the dream he’s had since a child in the stands of theFrozen Tundra.“All I wanted was a chance; I wanted to get my foot inthe door,” DeBauche said of his contract.“Lambeau’s only 15 minutes from my house. I’ve grown upa Packer fan. Everybody in my family’s a Packer fan. So it just seems like itwas supposed to be this way.”last_img

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