On most teams, the punter is little more than an afterthought. No one really pays too much attention to them unless they mess up big-time with a shank or blocked punt. But for the BYU Cougars, it’s a different story.
Ryan Rehkow is a legitimate on-field weapon. His punts have played a key role in icing games away, and his 83-yard punt against Arizona State set a new school record. His punting average of 49 yards currently puts him at number five in the country. Needless to say, it’s no surprise that he’s been added to the Ray Guy Award watchlist.
I was recently lucky enough to talk to Rehkow about life as a punter and his important role on BYU’s squad. Here’s how this rising star is able to make such a big impact.
Like most of us, Rehkow grew up a football fan — but this didn’t mean he necessarily thought it was going to be much more than that. “I always liked football, but the most competitive it ever got growing up was flag football on the playground,” he explains.
“We were a basketball and soccer family, mainly. In soccer I was always the one who took the corners and free kicks since I had a strong leg, so that probably played a part in thinking about switching over to football.”
Eventually, however, it was his own family’s success that led him to make the move.
“Ultimately, my older brother [Austin] was the one who paved the way with kicking and punting. He started his freshman year of high school and it worked out as he got a scholarship to Idaho. I saw the success he had and wanted to do the same thing, and that was how it all began.”
The move obviously paid off. Rehkow had a standout career at Central Valley High School in Washington, where he earned two-time Class 4A All-State First Team honors and was named to the All-Greater Spokane First Team as both a kicker and a punter.
As a multi-sport athlete with a bigger build than the average punter, BYU offered him a scholarship as an “athlete” to ensure he didn’t slip away. But despite some thoughts of playing him as a tight end or defensive end, Rehkow’s natural talent as a punter made it clear where he belonged.
Finding Success On the Field
Rehkow first took the field for the Cougars during the memorable 2020 season. While he didn’t see the field that often during Zach Wilson’s banner year (there were four games in which he only recorded a single punt), getting on the field in a college game was a big moment. As he explains, “That first punt [against Navy] was just the culmination of a lot of hard work and time put in over the years, and it was a great way to start out my career.”
While Rehkow performed well in 2020, he’s continued to put in the work, and it’s paid dividends so far. “I’d say that for me personally, confidence has been a bit different this year compared to last. A lot of that comes through work put in during the summer — just focusing on the basics and really committing the time to let muscle memory take over.”
Of course, just like any other part of football, successful punting is really a team effort. “I think there’s a lot that goes into seeing success out on the field, whether it’s a good snap, trusting my guys in the shield or knowing that our guys are gonna get down there and cover. Those all play a huge part in it,” Rehkow says. “The unit that we’ve had this year has done a great job so far and I’m just grateful for the guys who take just as much pride in that aspect of the game as I do.”
While special teams may not typically get as much attention from fans, Rehkow is well aware of the impact his punts can have over the course of a game.
“Just like each member of the team, we have a job to go out and do when we step on the field. It may not be as physically demanding or glamorous as making a crucial stop on fourth down or making the game winning catch, but those plays on special teams add up, for better or for worse. Because of that, we strive to make each opportunity count and do our jobs as best we can, just like every other person on the team would try to do.”
Becoming a Team Leader
Rehkow’s work ethic and obvious talent on the football field have earned him praise from coaches, fellow players and the media. But potential accolades and record-setting punts aren’t what stands out the most for him:
“I think the thing that I’m most proud of is the trust that I’ve been able to establish with my coaches and with my teammates. To be someone that your teammates can count on is a responsibility that I think is easy to overlook, and so that just adds to the confidence that I have in myself every time I step out on the field, knowing that my teammates have that confidence in me to go out and do my job, whatever it may be.”
That can be seen in Rehkow being named a co-captain along with kicker Jake Oldroyd on special teams, and the tight relationship the punting and kicking unit has as a whole.
He may only be a freshman, but Rehkow has already made an undeniable impact on the Cougars. If you’re looking for proof that Punters Are People Too, you couldn’t find a better example than this BYU standout.