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The Daily Tar Heel

UNC punter Tom Sheldon continues putting it all together

He’d recruited and was getting to know his new first-year punter, Tom Sheldon. Usually, having a rookie punter is enough to worry about, but Sheldon was a unique case — he’s 27 years old, came from Australia and had never played American football before. Fedora had never seen his new recruit in person before, but he showed up on campus just as he was advertised in grainy scouting videos.

His teammates didn’t know exactly what to expect either from their new teammate. Anthony Ratliff-Williams says he remembers watching Brandon Weeden, another athlete with a non-traditional path to college football, play for Oklahoma State a few years back. If Weeden could do it, Ratliff-Williams was hopeful Sheldon could too. And early on, his kicks in practice impressed his teammates and new coach.

“When he came in, he was just booting the ball, so it was just like, ‘That’s crazy,’” Ratliff-Williams said. “And he can actually control where he took it, so that was just a talent to us. We were just amazed, blessed to have him. Glad he came here.”

It’s been his talent, but also his ability to adapt to the game, that has impressed Fedora.

“From when he first stepped foot on campus, you saw him the very first day hitting balls, he can do some tremendous things,” Fedora said.

“He’s got a great leg. I think he’s really done a great job of picking up the game and understanding the game. Like the pooch kicks the other day inside the 5-yard line, all those things, he’s now feeling comfortable that he knows what’s needed to be done in the game.”

Against Duke this past Saturday, Sheldon played excellently. He made four punts and all four pinned Duke inside its 20-yard line.

His best came late in the fourth quarter, when he pinned the Blue Devils on their own 1-yard line. Those have taken practice to master.

“Early on, I was a bit worried about kicking a touchback into the end zone, and you end up pulling a few short,” Sheldon said.

“You are better off pushing the limit a little bit. Kicking the new (game) balls, it doesn’t quite go as far as it does during practice anyway, so you aim to the 1- or 2-yard line, it normally pulls up and lands right at about the five.”

Sheldon makes it sound and look easy, but what he’s been able to do this season is remarkable given his circumstances and his level of play. Sheldon has kicked the ball 37 times this season for an average of 42.6 yards per kick, including 12 kicks pinned inside the 20.

Sheldon has been playing well, but he’s also been enjoying himself and his team.

“(It’s) been great fun,” he said.

“Couldn’t have asked for a better bunch of guys to play with.”


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