Following a season in which he led the nation in punt average with 48.1 yards, it seemed like there wasn’t much left for Florida punter Johnny Townsend to accomplish by returning for his redshirt senior season.
He wrestled with departing for the NFL, where he could realize his dream of punting on Sundays. Ultimately, Townsend chose to return, giving Florida consistency on special teams and allowing him to play a season with his younger brother, Tommy, a redshirt sophomore who sat out the 2016 season after transferring from the University of Tennessee.
“Yeah, I was a senior, I graduated, so I technically could have left. It was a big decision on my part, my family’s part,” Townsend said. “I’m real excited that I stayed and I can’t wait to contribute in the fall.”
But for whatever reason, Townsend’s accomplishments haven’t garnered the respect that typically is bestowed on players who dominate in the SEC. He was left off the finalist lift for the Ray Guy Award, given to the nation’s top punter, despite his Division I-leading accomplishments, and the perceived disrespect only continued into 2017.
At SEC Media Days in July, Townsend was voted to the preseason All-SEC second team. Alabama punter JK Scott, who was also left off the Guy finalist list in 2016, was voted to the first team. Each punted 64 times last season, with Townsend’s average of 47.9 yards per punt just topping Scott’s average of 47.2 yards per punt.
If Townsend pays attention to awards, he isn’t letting on. His only concern is perfecting his craft while helping the team win.
“I do everything I can to help the team win,” Townsend said. “If it’s pinning opponents deep, flipping the field, if I do my job on Saturdays and it helps the Gators and we win then I’m happy. It’ll take care of itself.”
If there’s one thing Townsend did better than anything last season, it was pinning opponents deep in their own territory. Townsend landed 25 of his 62 punts inside the 20-yard line, giving UF’s defense an extended field to work with. It may seem like Townsend is already a master of his craft, but the Orlando native spent the summer identifying several potential improvements to bring to the field in 2017.
“The entire offseason I’ve basically looked at what I can improve off of last season. I want to get better in my directional punting. I want a little more hang time and I want to force less returns,” Townsend said. “That was my main focus this offseason and this entire camp. I think I made great strides with that.”
Townsend has taken more than just a quick glance at the opponents on Florida’s schedule – he’s studied the return units, the effectiveness of each returner from either side of the field and which kick works best in each scenario. And based off of what he’s spent the offseason studying, Townsend doesn’t expect to be laying any hits on returners going forward. Because from the sound of it, Florida doesn’t anticipate allowing the other team to field a decent return this season.
“We change our game plan each and every week. We face a lot of different returners, a lot of talented returners especially in the SEC. You’ve got playmakers each and every Saturday,” Townsend said. “We change our gameplan depending on the week and who we’re playing. A lot of our gameplan this year is going to be kicking the ball out of bounds, just seeing the guys we’re facing.”