Preparing for a career as an NFL punter is a unique process. Given the instability of the job security, even a top talent like Ole Miss's Tyler Campbell, who was one of the nation's best during his four seasons in Oxford, has to make comparatively mundane contingency plans in case his career in football doesn't last. At the same time that Campbell is training for one of the most competitive sports leagues in the world, he's finishing up his MBA. Between meetings with NFL teams, he's lining up interviews with finance companies in Little Rock and Dallas.
Campbell isn't sure if he'll be selected during the NFL Draft in May -- only 37 punters have been drafted since 1993, and only one was taken last year -- but regardless, he'll have a shot to land on team through free agency. The Arkansas native sat down with SB Nation to discuss how he's readying himself for a career both on and off the football field.
How are you preparing to make an NFL roster?
I'm currently in Oxford finishing up my MBA. I'm woking out, and I'm running to stay in shape. My most important aspect will always be to kick everyday and get consistent, so that's what I've been doing. As far as that goes, I've been working on directional punting and pooch punting. I've kind of got that honed in a little bit, but directional punting is my primary focus.
The NFL hashes are aligned with the goalpost -- they're a bit narrower, so it's a little different of an angle. There's a wider side of the field. Besides that, theoretically, it's all the same kick, it's just the way your hips are pointing.
The NFL uses a slightly different ball than the NCAA. Has that taken any getting used to?
It's getting better now, but when I first got them they were out of the box. They were brand new balls and everything. When I was practicing for the NFLPA Collegiate Bowl in Los Angeles, I was kind of thinking, 'this might be tough.' But once I got out there they had balls that were somewhat broken in, and I punted pretty well out there so I'm not worried about that anymore.
Do you think you'll be drafted?
My position is pretty unique, so a lot of teams don't usually want to use one of their draft picks on a punter. Every once in a while you'll see two or three drafted in a year. In my mind, I'm probably going to go free agent route. It'd be a dream come true if I got drafted, obviously, but I'm planning on the free agent route.
There's actually a lot of research that goes into it, especially the free agent route. Depending on what team contacts you, you need to know what would be best for you to actually win the job. So you don't want to go somewhere that has a Pro Bowler, and they're just trying to get competition. You want to go somewhere where you have a legitimate chance of winning the job. There are different factors that go into that. Some teams have punters that are struggling and they want a new one. Sometimes they want to take a cheaper prospect, so they'll release a higher-tier guy and just sign a rookie contract for the salary cap.
Have you identified any teams that would be a good fit?
My mom and I have done some research, and my agent's doing it at the same time. Whatever teams call, we'll have a good idea of what my chances will be.
Even if you do make a team, job security for an NFL punter isn't the best. How do you prepare for that?
I just have to control what I can control. I have to make sure I'm at my best and be the most consistent I can be. If I do make a team somewhere and they bring in competition, it's my job to win the competition. There are only 32 jobs and there's a lot of competition for them.
Are you preparing for a "normal" career if the NFL doesn't pan out?
Yea, I was managerial finance and accounting in undergrad, and now I'm completing my MBA. If the NFL thing doesn't work out, I'll get my CPA and go into the business world and try to be as successful as I can.
On the flip side, if you don't make it initially, you could get a phone call for a tryout at any time. Is that something you'll have to work around with a potential employer?
Yea definitely. They call that recycle time. If you don't make it one year, you just stay in shape and keep working on your skills and maybe the next year you get picked up. And even during the season, like you said, you might get a phone call. So I would definitely still be working out and punting on the side around my job just in case anybody did call.
You had the rare redshirt junior year under Houston Nutt. Do you think that affected your draft stock, good or bad?
Nah, not really. That's one reason I agreed to do it. I did it for grad school, actually. In my mind, I knew the NFL would still be there. It wasn't like one of those guys that stays for his senior year and ruined their draft stock. I don't think that really happened to me.
What did you think of your performance in your senior year?
I had some pretty good punts. It wasn't as consistent as I would have liked for it to have been. Bu the numbers are alright, so that's what matters at the end of the day. My sophomore year was actually my highest average year, when I led the country. Then my junior year was when the switched me to that rugby punt, so my average fell off that year.
You're talking about the Nutt staff switching you to the rugby punt. It doesn't sound like you were a fan.
I didn't like it. I really liked Coach [Hugh] Freeze's staff because they came in and they were like 'Is that what you want to do?' And I was like, 'Nah.' So they got rid of it and I really appreciate them for doing that.
Who on Nutt's staff moved you to the rugby kick?
The special teams coordinator. I think we fell in love with it a little too early. The first time we did it was against Georgia, and they weren't expecting it, so it rolled forever. But once teams started scouting us, they kind of caught on.
You played linebacker in high school. Do you ever miss hitting folks?
Not really. I knew coming out of high school that punting was my way to go. I made a few tackles as a punter at Ole Miss, which was kind of badass. I still got to hit some people. But I don't really miss the violence, per se.