Punting recruits rarely inspire much excitement. The position garners little interest, as fans typically don’t pay much attention to what punter their school brings in. But Michigan State recruit Jake Hartbarger is an exception. The second-best punter in the nation, as rated by kicking expert Jamie Kohl, Hartbarger has rare athleticism and talent for his position.
Following his recent commitment to play football for the Spartans, the 16th member of MSU’s 2014 recruiting class talked with Hondo S. Carpenter, Sr. on Spartan Nation Radio.
Few players start out as punters. Young football players often begin their careers at other positions, only transitioning to the spot when other options fail to materialize. For Hartbarger, his move to punter occurred purely by choice. The 6’4, 200 pound athlete from Whitehouse, Ohio could have excelled at many other positions, but decided he was best at punter.
“During my eighth grade and freshman year, I played defensive end,” Hartbarger revealed. “And then after that, I just focused on kicking and punting because I felt like that was my strongpoint and there were some things I needed to do in the winter to perfect it.”
A raw talent with lots of potential, the Anthony Wayne High School student soon heard about well-respected kicking guru Jamie Kohl and his renowned camps. Kohl, who has held kicking camps for over 15 years, is the go-to guy for college coaches seeking knowledge on young kickers and punters. About 83% of the punters in Division I football have passed through Kohl’s program. Kohl worked closely with Hartbarger to improve the youngster’s mechanics.
“It started about the summer of my sophomore year, we got some work in and then he invited me to more camps after that,” Hartbarger said. “He’s a great guy and he’ll teach you very well.”
Hartbarger honed his craft, using the tips and tricks he learned from Kohl to become one of the bets punters in the nation.
“My punting developed last season and throughout the summer, I’ve been perfecting it and getting the keys down,” Hartbarger said. “I would say probably this summer is when I really came out and I knew that I was a good punter.”
Hartbarger received the perfect opportunity to display his refined skills over the summer. Kohl’s international camp, hosting 600 athletes, brought together some of the best kicking prospects from across the world. The event is a premier event for punters and kickers, who dream of performing well and receiving college scholarships as a result.
“At the end of the day, Jake was a guy who took on the Ohio State commit, the LSU commit, the Alabama commit,” Kohl said of Hartbarger’s competition. “Jake was a guy coming in who did not have a big-time school offering and he stepped up and beat them all.”
Boasting an average final distance of 42.9 yards and a hangtime of 4.25 seconds, Hartbarger finished second out of 188 punters at the camp. His outstanding performance wowed scouts and caused an outpouring of interest in Hartbarger. He burst onto the national recruiting scene almost overnight. Toledo, Miami of Ohio, Oklahoma and Iowa State all extended scholarship offers to the Ohio native almost immediately after the camp ended.
“[Other schools] were starting to contact me in regards to Jake because of the film, the footage, seeing him perform against those other guys and seeing how he handled the pressure,” Kohl said. “He showed that he belonged.”
Though Hartbarger’s punting ability is impressive, good punters are not so hard to come by in college football. But the highly sought-after punter possesses a particular quality that makes him a precious quality: athleticism.
The former defensive end loves to fly downfield on punt coverage after booting the ball. His size and speed make him a valued asset to special teams coordinators, whose worst nightmare is a long punt return.
“Definitely the physical part does help out because you never know if you’re going to have to make a tackle or not,” Hartbarger said. “I feel that with kicking, you still need to have that physical attribute.”
When asked about the emerging punting prospect on Spartan Nation Radio, Kohl spoke quite highly of Hartbarger.
“He passes the eyeball test…He’s 6’4, about 200 pounds, he will be 6’4, 235 to 240 pounds by the time he’s done playing college football, so he’s going to develop as an athlete,” Kohl said. “The ball jumps off his foot extremely fast. He has a very, very fast leg, good flexibility and his stepping pattern has really improved from a consistency standpoint.
“A lot of high school punters develop as their career goes on, they become more coordinated as they grow into their body and that was the case with Jake. He drew the ball cleanly and his drop really improved.”
MSU head coach Mark Dantonio and the Spartan coaching staff were equally impressed with Hartbarger’s unique combination of kicking skills and athleticism. They soon decided to extend a prized scholarship offer to the talented punter.
“We were talking for a little bit and [Dantonio] ended up offering me a full scholarship,” Hartbarger said of the moment he learned of the offer. “I ended up calling back and making my commitment to the Spartans. We ended up talking for a while, just about the team and myself and then about me coming down for some games. We had a great conversation. He’s a really great guy.”
Hartbarger is excited to become a Spartan in the fall, despite the fact that he will most likely redshirt behind junior Mike Sadler next season. The high school senior believes that his true freshman year will allow him to develop into a top-notch college punter.
“I feel as if that’s a good situation for me because every college football player I’ve talked to has said that redshirting is a good option because of the experience you get and you get another year to get better,” Hartbarger said. “I feel the same way they feel. I feel that’s a good situation for me and I’m happy to be redshirting for my freshman year.”
The Spartan Nation should be equally thrilled to welcome Hartbarger aboard. The gifted punter possesses athleticism rare for a man at his position. Like many of the greats before him, the recent MSU commit is humble and dedicated to hard work. Hartbarger has both the ability and attitude to make his mark on Spartan history.
“When you look at him from an improvement standpoint, his ceiling is as high as anybody’s in this 2014 class,” Kohl said.