Friday, April 19, 2024

Punter takes hobby to new heights

August 28, 2002
Junior punter Jason Daily practices his punts during football practice Tuesday in preparation for Saturdday’s game against Eastern Michigan. Daily will be the starting punter. —

From Cougar to Spartan, Jason Daily has made the transition from junior college standout to Big Ten starter.

But growing up in Santa Clarita, Calif., the 6-foot-1, 180-pound junior punter never imagined football would be his ticket to success. After finishing his senior season of high school baseball with a 14-1 record and a 2.05 ERA, it was baseball that consumed him.

In the 2000 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft, the San Francisco Giants selected Daily in the 40th round.

But everything changed in college.

“When he came to College of the Canyons, he thought pitching was his future and kicking was his hobby,” said Chip Chavez, Daily’s kicking coach in San Luis Obispo, Calif. “But when I saw him kick, I told him he had his priorities wrong.”

A relationship quickly developed between Chavez and Daily as the coach realized the punter’s combination of talent and football IQ could lead to great things. Chavez hopes to attend MSU’s homecoming game against Minnesota on Oct. 19, when the Cougars have a bye.

“He was special while he was here,” Chavez said. “He understood what he was doing. He was just a pleasure to coach from that standpoint.

“They don’t come along like that very often.”

It didn’t take long for baseball to become Daily’s hobby, as kicking took over. And as a friendly reminder, his Cougar teammates dubbed the star punter “Hobby.”

In two years at College of the Canyons, Daily helped the Cougars amass a 19-3 record, and Chavez is quick to point out that Daily played a large role in the team’s success.

“His hang time is phenomenal. His gross average was just under 41 yards, but his net was about 39 yards,” Chavez said. “Of his 45 kicks, there was a total of just 64 punt-return yards. And he put 15 inside the 20 and nine inside the 10.

“See what I mean by special?”

Numbers like that at MSU will help fans forget about Craig Jarrett, who was the Spartans’ starting punter the past four years.

Daily knows he has large shoes to fill, but after nearly getting passed over by the Spartans, he feels the need to prove he was the right choice.

Tight end coach Pat Perles, who recruits from the state of California for MSU, watched Daily kick in person and was instantly hooked. But former kicking coach Sal Sunseri said he already had another punter in mind.

Daily knew MSU was his best fit, so he waited nearly four months until Sunseri took a job with the NFL’s Carolina Panthers.

That’s when the J.C. Gridwire First-Team All-American received an e-mail informing him he was the Spartans’ guy.

“That kind of got me for a little bit,” Daily said. “But I didn’t burn any bridges and it worked out.”

With head coach Bobby Williams naming Daily the starter last week, the only worry the punter has these days is when to fit in a few holes on the golf course. But with the season opener at 3:30 p.m. Saturday against Eastern Michigan at Spartan Stadium, the greens might have to wait until the Spartans’ bye week Oct. 4.

So instead of focusing on the fairway, Daily is focused on the Eagles. And his father, Phil, wouldn’t miss his son’s first Big Ten start for the world.

“When he said Michigan State, you think Big Ten - it doesn’t get any better than that,” the avid football fan said. “Jason is a gamer. He plays good under pressure, so I know he’ll do fine.”


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