Meet Johnny Hekker
July 2, 2009
He struggled early in the season to adjust to the speed of the game, but when the Beavers needed him most during the Sun Bowl, Johnny Hekker claimed the game’s Special Teams MVP Award. A series of outstanding punts helped Oregon State to win the field position battle and preserved a shutout against Pittsburgh in the season’s biggest game.
What’s your most memorable punt?
During the Sun Bowl there was this one, I was on the sideline joking around with Justin Kahut and he said, ‘why don’t you put this out on the one (yard line),’ and I go ‘no I’m thinking the three.’ It was like a 53-yarder and it goes out at the three. I go to the sideline with this big grin on my face, I probably looked pretty stupid but that was probably my most memorable one.
What are the keys to being a good punter?
Top of the line punters can replicate the same punt over and over and have consistency. You’ve got to have the same movements and be consistent with your mechanics. That would be the first step to being an effective punter.
Compare the first eight games of last season to the final five games?
I was really wide-eyed coming into it. It’s a college experience; I wouldn’t say that I wasn’t prepared for it, I just wasn’t aware that I had to be there and be the guy for the team. All the work I had to do, going toward the goal of being more efficient and being able to keep punts in bounds, because I had that trouble early on. I had trouble just being consistent with punts so I just worked on that. The game slowed down for me and I kind of got used to the speed of the college game. I think that was the biggest difference, just being relaxed on the field.
What changed after the first eight games?
I’d say getting reps during practice. It slowly accumulated with me getting a little better each time. It finally just clicked at the UCLA game; that was probably my coming out game. I was kind of confident. I would go out to games and say ‘I don’t want to shank one. I don’t want to shank one.’ Then I would come out to games and have the mindset that I’m just going to kick the ball, just do what I do in practice and if it works out it, it works out and if not I have stuff to work on.
What’s life like off the field?
Off the field I just relax with fiends. With all my freshmen friends off the field, I just like to hang out with them all the time. I play a lot of video games, go outside and punt every once in a while. I hang out with Ryan Allen a lot and Jordan Jenkins. I do homework and get my studying done. It’s usually just playing video games and hanging out.
What was the last punt against USC last year like?
That one wasn’t a solid hit. It came off the side of my foot and floated a bit. I always put that one in God’s hands. He took the ball and kind of let it roll down there right where it was supposed to go. I ran down there with the guys and they downed it. I was so thankful that God just stopped the ball right before it got into the end zone and we were able to hold them down there.
What are you working on over the off season?
I’m working on directional punting with Coach (Bruce) Read. He came in and one of the things he really harps on is keeping the ball right where we need it for the gunners and the coverage team to be effective. Doing that and just working on consistency. Last year I had trouble with that, so this year it’s got to be something that I have to step up on and that’s really what I’m looking to be. This year I want to be known as a consistent punter, someone who’s made leaps and bounds since last year. I want to be the guy that our team can rely on for a good punt when we need one and who can hang one up and do different types of punts when I need to.
How has the addition of Coach Read helped the program?
Having a new special teams coach, I never really knew (Coach Bruce Read) before. I contacted him a few times before I got here and I sent him a few tapes because Coach Riley wanted me to get evaluated by him before I came down as a freshman over the summer. I knew he was a great guy and he obviously knows his stuff because he was a coach in the NFL and he’s coached some great players. Having him here brings a wealth of knowledge because he knows so much about every aspect of every position on the special teams. He knows technical parts of punting. He knows how to block, the ins and outs of the business of football and how that works. He’s just a great asset to have.
What are your expectations going into next year, individually and as a team?
For the team, the sky’s the limit. We have a great core group of guys and there are a lot of people adding depth at a lot of positions. Our defense is going to be phenomenal and on offense we have some of the top running backs in the nation; we have depth like crazy. Everyone works hard so for this team the sky’s the limit. A Pac-10 Championship is a goal that we have. We all just want to work hard and put Corvallis, (Ore.) even more on the map. Last season we did a great job and this season we just want to keep it going.
For myself I would like to average about 42 yards per punt; I think that would be awesome for the team. To have a good net so people aren’t getting big returns off of us, to have more hang time and to be more consistent so I can be a reliable punter.
What is Read Across America and what led you to participate?
Read Across America is a program where a lot of OSU student-athletes got an opportunity to go to elementary schools around the area and read to the kids. We went on Dr. Seuss’ birthday to read Dr. Seuss books to them which was a lot of fun. I was approached by Linda Johnson; she’s the head of the student-athletes’ outreach. She sent me an e-mail asking if I was interested. I’ve done a lot of volunteer stuff before through high school, so I just thought that it was a great opportunity for us to go and to get little kids excited. When I was a little kid we had the big guys come over and it always put a smile on my face. I would always run home and tell my parents how excited I was. I thought if we could do that for little kids that would be awesome because I remember how people took their time when I was younger. It was just a great thing to do, to reach out to the community.
Do you have any words for Beaver Nation?
Beaver Nation get ready. It’s going to be a great year. Our special teams are going to be more rock solid than it was last year. We’re working really hard. Coach Read’s getting us on the right track and I think great things are going to happen out of the special teams corps this year.
To catch up on all of the Meet the Beavers interviews from this season click here.
Beaver Fun Fact: Jacquizz Rodgers first freshman ever to be named Pac-10 Offensive Player of the Year.
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