Punting with attitude: Ryan Stonehouse strives to improve on impressive freshman season
Entering his second season in the program, Colorado State sophomore punter Ryan Stonehouse has big expectations of himself and of CSU football as a whole. The quirky redhead, whose' curls can frequently be seen poking out the back of his helmet, and always seem to be wearing a smile on his face, was the only member of CSU football to be named to the preseason all-conference team, which is an honor that Stonehouse does not take lightly.
But for Stonehouse, the 2018 season is not about individual accolades, even if it nice to receive a little bit of attention, which is something the sophomore joked about. The 2018 season is about elevating his game to the next level.
As a true freshman, Stonehouse punted 46 times, netting 2,111 total yards and an average of 45.9 yards per punt, which ranked No. 5 nationally. Only Cory Bojorquez (New Mexico), Michael Dixon (Texas), Johnny Townsend (Florida) and Trevor Daniel (Tennessee) averaged more distance per punt in 2017.
Even so, Stonehouse felt like there was room for improvement. According to Stonehouse, there were times last season when he became fixated on just booming the football down field, especially after playing in adverse weather conditions. And while his punts often would travel far, his hangtime often suffered, which made things difficult for his coverage unit.
"It started when I was trying to punt through the wind or that kind of situation and then it would just carry over into the next game, even though the next game may have had perfect weather. I just got locked into that mindset," Stonehouse said.
Stonehouse explained that when punters get in a groove, it is often difficult to change bad habits during the middle of the season, so he really embraced the opportunity to refine his craft over the summer. This offseason Stonehouse worked extensively on improving his overall hangtime and he believes that this is going to make a world of difference.
"I have learned that I can punt the ball at the same distance, but just make it go way higher," Stonehouse said.
The increase in hangtime, combined with new coverage philosophies is what ultimately has Stonehouse feeling extremely confident this August. The Rams no longer use a coverage net scheme and instead will be attacking opposing punt returners with the traditional style of 'bullets' or 'gunners' on the outside. This simple scheme change has been beneficial on multiple levels.
"What has really helped our special teams this year is our coverage unit now is a lot better and it is a lot more realistic," Stonehouse said. "My job of getting the ball up there becomes even more important though, because we do not have nine guys down there. I have three bullets and the rest following as safeties, so it is kind of nice to have more responsibility."
Now that Stonehouse has had an opportunity to work on the technical side of punting and had adjusted to the new special teams schemes, the sophomore from Santa Ana, California is taking advantage of the resources made available to him on campus and focusing on improving his fitness. Obviously this includes getting in reps during the punt period, which Stonehouse does nearly every day, but his preparation process is not as simple as punting a football for hours on end because that just lead to injuries and muscle tightness.
"In the season, I am more focused on staying healthy and my body," Stonehouse said. "I do all my work in the offseason to get ready for the season. There is no point of kicking for like three straight hours because that is not realistic. I can go out and kick for two straight hours in the offseason all I want, but in the regular season I need to work my body and make sure I am ready."
Stonehouse went on to reference freshman long-snapper Ross Reiter, and how he is always eager to work. All he wants to do is work on snapping the football, which is how Stonehouse felt when he first got to CSU as well. Over time he established some balance within his routine though, and that is what really helped him start to make bigger strides in his game.
The other key is keeping his mind right and not putting too much stress on himself. Football is a game and it is supposed to be fun, even for the specialists. With more and more punters showing their personalities on and off the field, Stonehouse has embraced being charismatic and truthfully, the sophomore does not care if that bothers you or not.
"I think you have a little bit of personality because being a punter is obviously not the most glamorous job," Stonehouse said. "Having a personality can shine a light on those guys and highlight the unique things that they are doing and no one else is."
Stonehouse explained that branding was huge for guys like Pat McAfee, who was a longtime punter for the Colts and now hosts programs for Barstool Sports. And with the overall athleticism of the position increasing by the year, he anticipates more bold punters in the future. So, do not expect Stonehouse to back down from the spotlight any time soon.
With just over one week until the Rams host Hawai'i in the season opener, Stonehouse is confident in his game and believes he is in the right mindset to accomplish his lofty goals this season. His approach may not be traditional, but is works for him and the sophomore is ready to put his talent on display.