(The following is rookie punter David Leaverton's training camp diary for August 6-10, 2001.)
Monday, August 6--It was a good start to the week. We had two practices and started the day off pretty strong, knowing that we had to get some work done. We began to look at film of what Carolina was going to bring. They have a great return man in Steve Smith, who played at Utah, where he had some spectacular runs. Coach Gansz showed us his college highlight tape running punts and kicks back for touchdowns. We knew that this week was going to be important to get some punts with a lot of hang time, distance and placement.
Tuesday, August 7--This was no different than any other day. It was nice to have something to look forward to at the end of the week. In previous weeks, we just kept practicing and practicing with no end in sight. This Tuesday and Wednesday went on a lot easier because you knew very soon, right over the hill, the enemy was coming. The kicking was going good and I was looking forward to getting that first game under my belt. The competition between myself and Aron Langley has been very competitive and he's an incredible punter. He's gotten better every day. He has a definite advantage over me, because he's been in these training camps before. I believe that this is his third training camp and he knows what to expect in certain situations, and I'm slowly coming along behind him. I'm learning how the NFL system works. Mike Hollis has taught me how to prepare for a game during the week. You begin to slow down toward the end of the week so you feel good and fresh. The competition has been very heated. I believe the Jaguars as a team will be better, because the fierce competition has made both of us better punters. I also believe they'll be happy with either one of us.
Wednesday, August 8--This was the last practice day before the game. We just put some finishing touches on our game plan. We concentrated on getting good hang time and directional kicking. The butterflies started to come. I was anxious and excited to not only get the game going, but also to get it over with. Just to get that first game out of your system. It was a very concentrated and focused day.
Thursday, August 9--We walked out onto the field in shorts and jerseys with no helmets. It was just a walk-through, working on substitution and making sure people were in their right places. It was a dress rehearsal. It was like a Friday in college and a Saturday in the pros. The walk-through is more of a mental practice. No one is out there running around. It was a good day knowing that I had that evening to go to sleep and wake up refreshed. I usually talk to my parents the night before a game, and my sister is in town. She's about to go to Texas A&M. I got a lot of words of encouragement. They were saying they were praying for me and they were behind me. They've been so supportive throughout my career. They were kind of disappointed they were not going to be able to see the game on TV, so they were going to listen to the game on the internet. I'm not a superstitious guy. I don't spin three times in the air or anything like that. I just try to keep things simple. My roommate, Richmond Flowers, is in the same position as myself, with this being his first NFL game. We just sat and talked about how this is what we had worked so long for. We've put many hours into this and now our dream culminates tomorrow evening.
Friday, August 10--We were able to sleep in until about nine or ten o'clock, which was like sleeping until two in the afternoon. It was nice to just lie there and relax. Surprisingly, I wasn't nervous. I felt very calm and very relaxed. I am able to draw from my college experiences for this new experience. I've been in big games before. I've played in front 108,000 people. I've played in national championship games and this game was not worrying or scaring me. I was ready to go. I wish the game could have been played around two in the afternoon so we could have gotten it over with. It was a lot of sitting around. I would just lie in bed and it would get boring. We played games in college at eight o'clock in the evening, but I kind of hate those. It was the first time I played under the Friday night lights since high school and it was a nostalgic time. I had a good pregame meal and arrived at the stadium three or four hours before kickoff, just to make sure I was there on time. It's exciting to make a tackle as a punter. You may only make two or three the entire season. I felt very good hitting the ball. It was about a 53-yard punt. I had good placement on the left side of the field, right where the coverage team was going. However, as we suspected, Smith is an impressive return man and he made all of my teammates miss and before I knew it, he was coming down the sideline. I didn't see anyone around me so I figured I had to go get him. I realize that if I just wait on some guy to come to me I'm going to miss him, based on athletic ability. I'm not as good of an athlete as an NFL punt returner. I just got on my horse and started running as fast as I could at him to stop him. He kept running to me and I kept running to him and he assumed that I was just a kicker and that I was going to try and trip him. But that is not how I was taught to tackle, that's not how I like to tackle. I lowered the shoulders and brought everything I had. It was right on our sideline and the hit was pretty good and as I got up I got hit about 15-20 times by my teammates. I remember looking at Mark Brunell right in my face and he was beating on my head; my chinstrap was above my nose and it was a wild time. It was exciting to see the replay on the Jumbotron. I could hit 10 60-yard punts and not have a lot of the respect of my teammates, but I go out there and lay a good hit on somebody and I think that earns you a lot of respect with your teammates. They know I'm just going to go out there and kick the ball and I'm not a wimpy kicker. I've got about 225 pounds of meat on my bones. I don't like people scoring on me and I take that personal.