As you might remember, Tim Zaleski’s collegiate career did not start the way he would have liked.
The true freshman punter flubbed his fourth punt as a Wyoming Cowboy for a loss of 5 yards in the season opener at Iowa. In the 12 games since, there was little chance for the 6-foot-5 Illinois native to one-up that play in terms of national attention.
“People bring it up, but I just laugh at it,” Zaleski said. “It’s in the past. You can’t do anything about it. You learn from the experience. Was famous for a little bit but now it kind of died down, so it’s really nothing.”
But while that will be the lasting image of Zaleski’s freshman campaign — a shot of the gaffe remains his Twitter avatar — it was not the harbinger of a disastrous season, by any means.
Zaleski averaged 40 yards per punt in six games this season, including four of his last six.
“I feel like it was a little rough starting out,” Zaleski said. “I was really nervous at points. But I think I progressed a little bit. I still have a long way to go to work on a lot of fundamentals, but I see it as just moving forward, getting more progress in and hoping to do better.”
Zaleski’s overall average looks like, well, a freshman’s. His 39.2 yards per punt ranks 11th worst in the nation among qualified punters. But there’s no question Zaleski put his work in. Thanks to Wyoming’s offensive struggles, he punted 87 times this season, which, as of Sunday, is the most of any punter in the country.
And his leg isn’t even tired.
“Not exactly,” he said. “It’s not really that much to do. It’s just one swing. Yes, we (had the most punts), but I don’t really pay attention to stats stuff at all, really.”
Regardless, here’s another. Zaleski downed 33 punts inside the 20-yard line, which leads all punters in the Mountain West. He had four such punts on his first four tries in Wyoming’s Potato Bowl win last Friday.
“I feel like that was my strong point,” Zaleski said. “I worked on those a lot in the offseason, so that helped me out a little bit. Just got to work on the average and get it up more.”
Zaleski’s four-game stretch of 40-plus averages came to an end in Wyoming’s regular-season finale at San Jose State. Thanks to a seven-game home slate and the appropriately named Mountain West Conference, it was the Cowboys’ first game at sea level since the season opener at Iowa. Zaleski’s average dropped to 36.6 that game and kicker Cooper Rothe’s game-tying attempt fell just short, bouncing off the crossbar.
“That was more mental, because you think about the elevation, going from 7,000 to sea level and it is different,” Zaleski said. “But I kind of put that to mind, and I didn’t really focus that much, and I should’ve been more locked in. That’s what kind of really didn’t help me that much.”
Zaleski’s first full offseason as a college punter should help to improve his distance.
“I plan to get my legs a lot stronger, get my squat up, but also get more flexibility,” he said. “Might do some yoga lessons. That’s a really big part of being a punter, being more flexible.”
During the season, the strength and conditioning staff reduces the intensity of starters’ workouts so that they aren’t worn out for games.
“The trainers, they limit us on our legs, so we really didn’t do that much legs throughout the season,” Zaleski said before the bowl game. “We are starting to do some now, because we have a little break. That helps you to get your legs back, but we really didn’t do a lot of legs.”
In fall camp, there was light leg work. So, now is really Zaleski’s first chance to take full advantage of a college workout regimen.
“I talked to Cooper, and it’s going to be a tough offseason workout,” Zaleski said, “but I’m looking forward to it and getting better. But yeah, it will help us. It certainly will be tough.”
Probably not as tough as becoming a national sensation for the wrong reason. Luckily for Zaleski, the college football world has moved on to other embarrassing punts, like when Western Kentucky’s Jake Collins fell down on what appeared to be a fake punt. Collins fumbled on the play and Florida International picked it up and returned it for a touchdown.
“Hopefully they’ll get rid of it, move on,” Zaleski said of other punters’ viral embarrassments. “You can’t let it bother you at all.”