WESTMINSTER — The Koch family does not play catch like the rest of us.
On a recent afternoon, Sam Koch and his teenage son Kamdyn stood about 30 yards apart, booting a football back and forth on the Winters Mill High School football field in the autumn sunshine, their kicks sailing high and landing almost directly in each other’s hands.
If there’s a family that can aim precision punts across a football field as a mere warmup, it’s the Kochs. For 16 years, Sam was a rock-steady punter for the Ravens before retiring and taking on a special teams consulting role. Now Kamdyn, a senior committed to Nebraska, is taking on the family business.
And, boy, is it work.
Over the course of a workout, Sam reminds Kamdyn over and over: short, concise steps. Keep the ball low. Angle your body to your target. For an action that can seem intuitive, maximizing each punt and not getting blocked takes a lot of technique and precision. It’s hard to repeat with airtight consistency, especially for a high schooler still growing into his body.
It’s little surprise that Sam, who nearly reinvented punting in the NFL, views what most fans might regard as the least interesting part of a football game as a highly technical art, like perfecting a golf swing but if you had to hit a ball you dropped from the air. Kamdyn takes the critiques quietly, nodding at his All-Pro dad, waiting for the words that make it all worth it.
After a handful of punts that sail high and far, Sam says what Kamdyn has been waiting to hear. “That was a good ball.”
The occasional compliment is as precious as gold.
A thankless role
Specialists are underappreciated in the NFL, and punters even more. Kickers at least line up with the chance to boot the game-winning points now and then. Sam likes to needle Justin Tucker, the Ravens’ longtime stalwart kicker, that punting is more difficult to get right every time than kicking — Tucker is forced to agree.
“When you’re a punter, you have to catch the ball, you have to mold the ball to get the laces just so,” Tucker said. “You have to drop the ball and hope it doesn’t spin off your foot and go out of bounds for a 12-yard net punt, which I know all too well from my college days.”
Sam grew up in York, Nebraska, where he and his friends were happy to play football in a cornfield. Kamdyn (who shockingly is not named for Camden Yards, born before Sam came to Baltimore) has grown up playing not only football but soccer, lacrosse and basketball. Even on the Winters Mill football team, he has played cornerback and receiver.
Although there are other sports and other positions that invite more spontaneity and perhaps more fun, Kamdyn was drawn into punting by his dad and brother Braxtyn — as well as a big leg that helped him when he played soccer. Kamdyn realized punting could help him get college scholarships, and as the son of the Ravens’ best punter, he had a unique appreciation for how to succeed in a discipline that many football fans overlook.
“I don’t want to be a negative force — nobody’s got time for only criticism. … But he knows, if he ever needs help, he can come to me when he wants to.”— Sam Koch on his son Kamdyn
“Punters are very underappreciated,” Kamdyn said, “but if the game’s close and they flip the field, they’re gonna appreciate it.”
Take Kamdyn’s first punt of the season: a 56-yarder that pinned the Falcons’ opponent inside its own 5. Dad proudly recorded it from the stands — perhaps the only parent at the game excited enough to post video of a punt on Instagram.
Punting the negativity
Sam was successful at punting because of a fanatical attention to detail that echoes in other parts of his life. He takes pride in fixing old cars, posting his latest projects on social media. Kamdyn, at 6-foot-3, might be able to take Sam in a one-on-one basketball game, but Sam sticks to HORSE, in which his shooting form might rival his punting. Ravens officials still swear that Sam is the best bean-bag toss player ever to grace the locker room, sometimes holding opponents to shutouts.
It wasn’t in Sam’s plan for his sons to follow him into punting, however. The best punters go unnoticed, and if you draw attention at all it’s usually for a bad reason. Sam worries his own high standards could wear on his sons, so he tries giving them advice only when they ask for it.
“I don’t want to be a negative force — nobody’s got time for only criticism,” he said. “Kids will be kids. I want him to go out there with his buddies and play. … But he knows, if he ever needs help, he can come to me when he wants to.”
There are moments when negativity seeps in, but not from Sam. In county games, Kamdyn said it’s common for opposing fans to chant “Daddy’s Money!” when he steps up to punt or kick off.
His dad was a successful NFL punter — sick burn.
“They’re just trying to get under my skin, but they never do,” Kamdyn said, grinning. “My dad helps me deal with that. It’s fine with me. They can say and do whatever. I just go out there and play.”
Following dad’s footsteps
Kamdyn’s punting got him noticed by Nebraska, the school Sam went to as a walk-on that vaulted him into the NFL. The Kochs go to the Cornhusker State at least once a year, and much of their family lives about a half-hour from Lincoln.
This summer, when Kamdyn went to camp there, coach Matt Rhule offered him a scholarship on the spot — Kamdyn accepted, and the Kochs canceled a follow-up visit to Kansas State.
Also this summer, Kamdyn served on the equipment staff with the Ravens. He observed how Tucker and current Ravens punter Jordan Stout go about their business. Even in father-son workouts, Sam will occasionally note punting details that he’s worked on with Stout — a bit of NFL wisdom sprinkled in.
Tucker has watched Koch’s children grow up since he joined the Ravens in 2012. Ten years ago, Tucker hoisted Kamdyn on his shoulders for a picture at the NFL logo at the Superdome the day before Baltimore played in the Super Bowl.
Now Kamdyn stands taller than Tucker. After calling him “a good kid,” the kicker corrected himself. “Well, now he’s a young man.” It was a little disorienting to see Kamdyn, the soon-to-be college punter, around the Owings Mills practice facility, no longer just a child.
“He came in with an attitude that in a lot of ways is very similar to [how] Sam operated as a player,” Tucker said. “Even if it’s something as seemingly small as shagging balls for the kickers and the punters on Field 3, or putting jerseys on shoulder pads — a lot of us could tell that Kamdyn fit in really well. He bought in.”
Sam and Kamdyn both sense the end of an era. Winters Mill has a Friday playoff game against Williamsport with elimination on the line.
Whatever happens, Kamdyn’s high school football career will soon be over. Although the Koch family plans to see its share of Nebraska games next season, Sam is wrestling with the idea that Kamdyn won’t be in the house much longer.
“It just reminds you of how fast time goes” he said. “It goes way too fast.”
But he’s proud: proud of Kamdyn’s work ethic, proud of how he’s handled Sam’s own critiques, proud of seeing him off to college. And, while teenage boys tend to be an inscrutable lot, Kamdyn acknowledges these games of “catch” with his dad have been pretty special to him.”
“I treasure every workout we do together,” he said. “Every time we’re out here, he teaches me a lot. It does get hard with all the stuff he throws at me, critiquing every little thing that I do. At the end of the day, I’m grateful that he does that for me.”