Oct 28, 2012
By Scott Gierman
CARBONDALE, IL - Austin Pucylowski describes himself as a hands-on guy. That's not something you might expect to hear from the Salukis' punter, whose main job with the team mostly involves his right foot. However, it's a personality trait that runs in the Pucylowski family.
"I was always hands-on," Pucylowski said. "My dad is an electrician, and he's a very hands-on guy. If he could pay someone to fix something or he could learn how to fix it himself, he'd learn how to fix it. I got that from him."
For that reason, Pucylowski (pronounced POOCH-uh-LAU-ski) said he wanted to be an engineer when he was a child. He's currently a junior majoring in biological sciences on a biomedical engineering track.
"That sounds like a lot of mumbo jumbo," he said, "but really what I'm focusing on is pre-med, focusing on being a doctor."
More specifically, he hopes to become an orthopedic surgeon with a specialty in sports medicine.
"It's what most doctors refer to as the carpentry of medicine," Pucylowski said. "Like I said, I want to be the engineer. I want to be in there. I want to be hands-on, doing things. That's what really got me interested in being an orthopedic surgeon."
The man everyone in the Saluki locker room refers to as "Pooch" is a junior and hasn't decided where he plans to attend medical school just yet. However, he currently has a 4.0 GPA and is on track to graduate next December, a semester ahead of schedule. He said he'll most likely adjust his course load to graduate in four full years, though. With nine years of medical school and residency ahead of him, he's certainly in no rush to finish his education.
Junior punter Austin Pucylowski carries a 4.0 GPA.
Becoming an orthopedic surgeon will take precision and accuracy, two things for which a punter also aims. Pucylowski has been just that with a net punting average in the top 15 in the nation. Although he gives all of the credit to his coaches and teammates for preventing any big returns, he has been placing punts right where they belong.
Where did he learn to kick like that? Well, that runs in the family too.
"Punting was just a side job," said Pucylowski, who also played tight end and briefly left tackle in high school. "My brother got me into it. I just kept working at it. I was never the fastest kid on the team so this was my way to get to a bigger program."
His brother, Adam, was a punter for Division III North Central (Ill.) College, where he is currently an assistant coach working with the defensive line and special teams.
Adam worked as a counselor for Kohl's Kicking Camps, a nationwide organization that offers instruction to aspiring kickers and punters. Two brothers, Jamie and Andy Kohl, founded the camp in Waukesha, Wis., the town where Pucylowski attended high school.
"They started out in the Midwest, but now they're national," Pucylowski said. "I would go to their camps, and since Adam was a counselor, he was able to take me along. He would go on road trips, and it was a nice way for me to get some experience.
"(The Kohl's) are a big influence and probably the only influence on how I learned to punt. Their father still lives back in Waukesha, and he would even give us lessons."
That hands-on training has led to a successful career for Pucylowski.
He has not had a punt blocked since his freshman year, but he still cringes just a little when he sees the way his teammates have been treating opposing punters this season. The Salukis have blocked three punts and returned them all for a touchdown.
"It brings me back to freshman year," Pucylowski said. "I think to myself, I'm glad we got things rolling, but I feel his pain. Even on windy days when I see a punter shank one off the side of his foot and it goes 10 yards, I'm right there with him because I understand. I've had those days."
At 6-foot-4, he certainly looks the part of a linebacker or tight end who could make a tackle on one of those days when things go wrong. However, it's something the coaches would like to avoid.
"On special teams drills, we (kickers) just have to be dummy backs," he said. "Every time I try to hop in there (to make a play), I get screamed at because if anything went wrong, it wouldn't be good."
That's one area where he'll have to agree to be hands-off.