LARAMIE -- Ethan Wood's first and last high school punt never even happened.
It's not that the football's hang time was sub par or its trajectory was too low. In fact, he never got that far.
Wood was given one shot, and he fumbled it.
And while that gaffe struck the nails firmly into his prep punting career's coffin, the freshman walk-on from Colorado Springs has been given a second chance, and at the Division I level, to boot. Wood is currently holding his own with junior placekicker Stuart Williams in the competition for the starting punting job at Wyoming.
So, how did he get here? You could assume that he bounced back from that first stumble, immediately getting back on the horse and allowing that failure to inspire him. It sounds good, but it isn't true.
“When I fumbled that snap, it was devastating and I never wanted to punt again," Wood said.
In reality, his road back wasn't a short one. The former all-state soccer player has worked endlessly with a personal kicking coach for the past two years, learning the important differences between striking a round ball and an oblong-shaped one.
"I’m starting to get the hang of it," Wood said. "It’s hard to convert from soccer because it’s totally different mechanics, but I’m starting to get it down.”
And so, the kid who couldn't catch a football a few years ago is preparing to punt one in Mountain West stadiums. Wood's improvement has been noticeable, but not enough so to put Wyoming coach Dave Christensen's mind at ease.
At the Wyoming Fall Media Day on Aug. 9, Christensen both made light of the situation and exposed his lack of confidence in the team's inexperienced punters.
"If anybody in this room has eligibility left and can punt, let me know," Christensen said, drawing a chorus of laughs. "We'll give you a tryout tomorrow."
Wood proved his worth in the team's first scrimmage two days later, though, delivering three clean punts an average of 44.3 yards downfield. Afterwards, Christensen chose not to name a starter, hinting instead at the possibility that there may never truly be one guy.
“It depends. We’ve got different things we’re going to do schematically. We might use a couple punters," Christensen said. "I don’t want to make a decision yet, but Ethan is doing a nice job.”
Wyoming holds is second scrimmage of fall camp at 10 a.m. on Saturday at War Memorial Stadium. And in Wood's case, "a nice job" is all the more impressive when considering his limited background. A few years ago, this kid was walloping soccer balls and struggling to adjust to his second sport.
Now, things come a little easier.
“It’s a night and day difference. I was lucky to get it 30 yards in the air when I first started," Wood said. "And now I’m disappointed if I can’t get it over 45. The hang time’s a big difference, too. I was just line driving it and not getting it very far. It’s completely different.”
Wood still doesn't look like a football player, standing a skeletal 6-foot-3, and 165 pounds. When he takes off his helmet, a mop of floppy, dirty blonde hair reveals itself, more likely owned by a surfer preparing to ride a gnarly wave than a Mountain West punter.
But while he may not look the part, he's beginning to act it. And that means, first and foremost, catching a spiraling snap.
"Catching the ball, I don’t even think about it now," Wood said, years removed from his initial punting blunder. "I just try to stay consistent and focus on getting the punt off.”