Part of The Analyst’s FCS series called “By the Numbers,” which analyzes data to help tell the story of FCS college football.
The job of the punter is often overlooked, but when your favorite college football team is clinging to a lead in the fourth quarter and punting out of its own end zone, you may want one of the standouts listed below to be your clutch guy.
They would save some of your fingernails from being chewed off – they were/are that good.
One current star in FCS college football is UT Martin punter/kickoff artist Aidan Laros, a South African-born specialist who in just over a half season at the FCS level has turned heads. If his current, FCS-leading punting average holds, it will go down as one of the top five seasons in Division I subdivision history, which dates back to 1978.
The list you see below starts with two Big Sky Conference All-Americans, which isn’t unusual because with the higher altitudes and thinner air in that part of the country, punters and kickers tend to outperform the rest of the nation. Along with that pair, the top five includes one each from Western Athletic Conference, Missouri Valley Football Conference and Ohio Valley Conference member schools.
For the punters below who wrapped up their careers, which ones got a shot at the NFL? And which one was drafted and went on to 13 seasons with an NFL team?
We discuss it here:
Listed are the all-time single-season leaders in punting average kept by the NCAA for the FCS level. Punters had to attempt at least 50 to make the list, but 2023 national leader Aidan Laros of UT Martin is an exception below since his season is far from over.
1. David Harrington, Idaho State
Outkicked: 48.70 yards per punt
The Coverage: Not surprisingly, Harrington found his name on just about every All-American team one could think of. He had a two-year career at Idaho State after punting at Orange Coast Junior College. He also was on Tennessee’s roster in 2009, but never played in a redshirt season. In two years with the Bengals, he averaged 46.29 yards per punt, but his final season (2011) was for the record books. This California native’s career best was a 70-yarder, and he had 29 punts that sailed more than 50 yards in 2011. He had a tryout with the Dallas Cowboys in May 2012, but never punted in an NFL regular-season game.
2. Mark Gould, Northern Arizona
Outkicked: 48.18 YPP
The Coverage: Gould is an NAU Hall of Fame inductee after playing for the Lumberjacks from 2000 to 2003. His average of 48.2 was the single-season best in FCS history at the time, and he was a two-time All-American. He played in the 2003 East-West Shrine Game – a postseason honor for seniors.
3. Jake Gerardi, Southern Utah
Outkicked: 48.11 YPP
The Coverage: Gerardi, who was invited to the Kansas City Chiefs minicamp in May, was incredible in his final collegiate season last year, punting 53 times for 2,550 yards, according to the SUU website. That included an eye-popping 21 that went for more than 50 yards, and 19 that landed inside the 20-yard line. Couple that with a 59-yard average of kickoffs at SUU, and a solid two seasons at Azusa Pacific prior to the pandemic, and he enjoyed an incredible career.
4. Mike Scifres, Western Illinois
Outkicked: 48.02 YPP
The Coverage: Selected in the fifth round of the 2003 NFL Draft, this strong-legged standout had a 45.2-yards-per-punt average in the NFL from 2003-2015, all for the Chargers. Scifres is in the WIU Hall of Fame, and the opening line of his bio is simply, “During Western Illinois’ 110-plus years of football, no one can come close to what Mike Scifres did punting the ball.” He was a three-time All-American and is known for his herculean feats, like an 89-yard punt against Missouri State as a sophomore in 2000, or his two 70-plus-yard punts in one game. This Louisiana native even hit a game-winning, 56-yard field goal as time expired in a 2000 win at Northern Iowa.
5. Aidan Laros, UT Martin
Outkicked: 48.00 YPP
The Coverage: Laros, a transfer from FBS Charlotte this year, has immediately made an impact on the FCS level as a UT Martin sophomore. This South African-born talent is averaging 48 yards over 34 punts (yes, 48.00 on the button). He also has connected on 6 of 9 field goals and is the Skyhawks’ kickoff man, too. He averaged 50.3 per punt against national champion Georgia in his first UTM game, with four of the eight going for 50-plus yards.
For the record, Charlotte’s punter is averaging 45.30 coming into this weekend. Last year, Laros was the 49ers’ kickoff specialist as a redshirt freshman, averaging 60.6 yards per kickoff with 28 touchbacks – with only 13 being returned out of 51.
The Best of the Rest
These five punters just missed the top five of single-season averages:
6. Paul Ernster, Northern Arizona
Punt Average: 47.84
7. Miles Bergner, South Dakota
Punt Average: 47.50
8. Brent Barth, VMI
Punt Average: 47.38
9. Alex Pechin, Bucknell
Punt Average: 47.32
10. Harold Alexander, Appalachian State
Punt Average: 47.02