LARAMIE — Who could’ve guessed internet fame would come so quick for Tim Zaleski?
“It is very weird,” the true freshman punter said. “People were like, ‘Hey, no publicity is bad publicity. You’re famous now.’ I just went along with it, laughed it off.”
In the final minute of the first half of Wyoming’s 24-3 loss Saturday at Iowa, Zaleski produced a negative-5-yard punt when he dropped the ball so far away from his right foot he could barely touch it. Video of the muff quickly spread throughout the online college football universe.
“I looked at my phone, and there was a lot,” Zaleski said. “I avoided it for a while. I had some stuff (sent) at me, but I also had a lot of people supporting me, which helped a lot.”
The Cowboys were down 7-3 to Iowa at the time, and were hoping to keep it that way with just 33 seconds left in the half. Then came the whiff.
“I kind of rushed it,” Zaleski said. “I caught it wrong and everything and went to get the laces up for my drop, and it just rolled off my hand.”
Iowa scored a touchdown immediately after a Wyoming penalty to take a 14-3 lead into the half.
Zaleski, who also played receiver and tight end at St. Rita (Illinois) High School, was playing his first college game, and it came in front of 68,075 at Kinnick Stadium.
“Oh yeah, I was nervous,” Zaleski said. “I wasn’t zoned in enough. I just looked at the crowd and everything. Just didn’t focus as much as I should’ve.”
He said his teammates were supportive when he returned to the sideline.
“Obviously, you can’t jump on the kid,” running back Kellen Overstreet said. “It’s his first start, first-ever college game, so you know we’re all going to make mistakes. It happens. But it’s out of the way now, so now we just have to encourage him every single chance we get.
“Because we have full confidence in him that he’s going to improve every single time he’s in the game. It’s an unfortunate mistake and came at a rough time in the game, but I think we just have to ride him the rest of the way out and just encourage him.”
Head coach Craig Bohl, who individually works with Wyoming’s specialists, had some words with Zaleski as well.
“Coach Bohl said, ‘Stuff happens. Just get that out of your head. Get onto the next one,’” Zaleski said. “He helped me out a lot.”
Zaleski had seven punts Saturday. On the other six, he averaged 34.6 yards per kick, with a long of 42.
“I have a lot more to improve,” he said. “I rushed a lot of things. Certainly, I was not happy with what I did. But I’ll just look at the film, learn from it, just go out there the next game and do better.”
He had one punt that downed Iowa inside its own red zone. It came on his first punt after becoming an internet sensation, putting Iowa at its own 8-yard line.
“It felt a lot better,” Zaleski said. “Got my confidence up and everything. Just had to forget about it.”
Said Bohl: “If I tee off on a Cowboy Joe (golf) event, I probably muff the ball, and the next three times I muff it, too. He answered the bell and did a lot better than I would.”
Zaleski believes he has moved on from the mistake.
“You just have to forget about it,” Zaleski said. “You can’t look back on it. Game One is over. Got the first-game jitters out. You’re only as good as your next kick. You’ve got to learn from it, so just laugh it off.”
Of course, there was still the matter of Zaleski’s Twitter mentions. Zaleski appeared to lean into the fun, retweeting a Barstool Sports tweet with a GIF of his punt and the caption “SWING AND A MISS” and another comparing him to blind Southern California long snapper Jake Olson.
“After (the punt), he already knew that it was going to be everywhere,” fellow true freshman Avante’ Cox said. “... When it happened, you could tell he was frustrated about it. He was mad. After the game when we were in the locker room, you could tell he was still kind of mad.