Townsend Followed His Heart to Florida
By Brandon Castel and Michael Chung
In the end, Jonny Townsend’s heart trumped his sense of commitment.
It was a tough phone call. Make that two tough phone calls, but Townsend finally signed his Letter of Intent to play for the Florida Gators on Thursday. It came one day after the 3-star punter out of Orlando was expected to fax his signature to Urban Meyer and the Ohio State Buckeyes.
“It was tough calling Coach Meyer. He has been so great all along the whole process,” Townsend told The Orlando Sentinel on Thursday.
“It went really bad . . . sad and it was tough to tell him I wouldn’t be coming up there. He wanted to know why I was making that choice, and I just told him I had a change of heart and had to do what was best for me and my family.”
According to The Sentinel, Townsend’s brother, Clay, is a sophomore in Gainesville and both of his parents – Clay Sr. and Susan – attended the University of Florida. So when Townsend got the call from Will Muschamp just as he was preparing to become a Buckeye it rocked him to the core.
“I was in complete shock,” Townsend told The Sentinel.
“I was sitting down with family, saying some prayers and wondering out loud if all of this was happening for a reason. Like, what if this was just something that was meant to be. So I just started to weigh my options and trying to figure out where my heart was.”
Rated as the No. 2 punter in the country by Scout.com, Townsend told The-Ozone coming to Ohio State was going to be one of the best opportunities for a punter because Urban Meyer works directly with the special teams.
The punt team in particular. It’s his baby. While all the 5-star linebackers and wide receivers are running around doing drills, Meyer will stand and watch the punt team. He gets right in there with the blockers, telling them what to look for and how to use their hands.
He talks with the punters about their get off time and whether they are putting enough air under the ball, and his interest in something so many others take for granted earned him an instant connection with Ohio State’s senior punter in 2012.
“I enjoy the level of involvement that (Meyer) spends with us,” said Ben Buchanan, a Westerville native who served as the Buckeyes’ punter the last three seasons.
“He is like Coach (Jim) Tressel. Coach Meyer, those guys are legends in the coaching field. They’ve won national championships. They’ve been around Heisman Trophy winners. To have them coach you is really a pleasure.”
So much so that Townsend was willing to consider a unique offer to come and play for him in Columbus. He originally committed to Ohio State because both Alabama and Florida could only offer him a preferred walk-on position.
The Buckeyes were quick to extend a full scholarship offer, but this led to some confusion on Signing Day because Townsend would not have actually joined the team until there was enough room on the roster.
Ohio State is currently limited to just 82 scholarships instead of the usual 85 as a part of its NCAA sanctions. That runs through the 2014 season, and with the late additions of Dontre Wilson, James Clark and Vonn Bell, Meyer is right up against his limit.
“It was horrible. Can't take three more players,” Meyer said on Wednesday.
“It's like a toothache. I mean, every time you say, ‘okay, let's – well, we can't. Let's – we can't, we can't. Then you start juggling the numbers. So, yeah, it's significant. Those are three – someone says you only have three scholarships less. Wait a minute. That could be three Braxton Millers or John Simons.”
Or one scholarship punter.
Without Townsend, the Buckeyes don’t have one on the roster for 2013. Place-kicker Drew Basil was a punter and kicker for coach Bill Davidson at Chillicothe High School. He only attempted 11 field goals all of last season, but Basil has also kicked off 226 times over the last three years.
Another option would be redshirt freshman Frank Epitropoulos. The Upper Arlington product came to Ohio State last year as a wide receiver, but his quickest path to the field may be as a punter.
The son of former OSU letterman John Epitropoulos was a two-time all-Ohio punter at UA High School, where he averaged 42.2 yards per punt as a junior and 39.2 as a senior.
“I don't know,” Meyer said when asked if Epitropoulos might be able to handle the punting duties in 2013.
“He's been hurt since he's been here, so I don't know.”
The last option would be finding another punter on the open market. There aren’t many of them left who would be considered worthy of a scholarship offer from the Buckeyes, so Meyer might have to get creative.
Ohio State has had some productive walk-on punter and kickers in the past – most recently Jon Thoma, who averaged 37.9 yards per punt for the Buckeyes in 2009 – and Devin Barclay, a former MLS soccer player who hit the game-winning kick in overtime against Iowa during the ’09 season.
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