It doesn’t have to be long.
It doesn’t even have to be official.
Jamie Kohl is appealing to the NFL’s better angels here, while at the same realizing he’s dealing with a world where those angels often fear to tread.
“I don’t know if I’m going to be able to get it done,” the collegiate kicker-turned-instructor told Land of 10, “but I’m sure going to try.”
Of all the touching tributes to late Nebraska punter Sam Foltz — flowers, decals, jerseys, coins — over the past few months, there’s one chapter of a life cut too damn short still cruelly unresolved, Kohl said. To that end, Kohl, director of the Kohl’s Kicking and Punting Camps where No. 27 used to shine, is reaching out to his contacts within the National Football League to see if they can, someway, somehow, pull off something simple and awesome:
Getting Foltz’s name called next spring at the 2017 NFL Draft.
“We’d like to have an honorary draft pick by the NFL in the seventh round or something,” Kohl said. “Just do that for the family.”
It’s not an ego thing.
It’s not a publicity thing.
It’s a closure thing.
NFLDraftScout.com had rated Foltz as its fourth-best punting prospect out of 58 evaluated in the Class of 2017. As a junior, the burly 6-foot-2 specialist led the Big Ten in punting average (44.2 per attempt). He booted 16 punts of 50 yards or more. The only part of No. 27 stronger than his heart was his missile launcher of a right leg.
“Sam,” said Kohl, a standout at Iowa State from 1995-98 who later had a cup of coffee with the Seattle Seahawks, “was going to be the first player drafted, I believe, at the punter position.”
Kohl has friends in front offices and coaching staffs up and down the NFL. His sources are rock solid, and those sources say Foltz was probably going to get his name called. Maybe on a Saturday. Probably late in the game. But it was going to happen.
“I’ve been around a lot of people in my life,” Kohl continued. “And Sam was the type of guy that — he was kind of a man’s man. I mean, everybody respected him. He was a punter, but he was really one of the best athletes on the team. He was one of the fastest. One of the strongest. He was a walk-on receiver that probably could’ve made the starting lineup (there) by this time. But he was obviously very skilled as a punter, and it would have landed him in the NFL.”
It would have, if fate hadn’t been so cruel. Foltz, the reigning Eddelman-Fields Big Ten Punter of the Year, was killed on July 23 along with former Michigan State punter Mike Sadler when the car Sadler was driving on wet pavement in Merton, Wis., went off the road and struck a tree.
“(We’re) really trying to carry on their legacy so, in 25 years, the kicking and punting world, even though neither one made the NFL, they will be remembered.”
— Jamie Kohl, director, Kohl’s Camps
The accident happened on a rainy weekend that Foltz and Sadler, close friends, were working as student instructors at a Kohl’s camp in Wales, Wis. — camps where No. 27 was beloved.
Check that. Revered.
“At our national camps, we had 130-some college guys there, and a lot of them have big egos, and a lot of them think they’re going to be the next NFL star,” Kohl explained. “And very rarely do they really, genuinely cheer for each other. And when Sam would hit a good ball, and it was spontaneous — the crowd of 130 other college guys would be, ‘Atta boy, Sam,’ and they’d start cheering because Sam would hit a good ball.
“And I mean, that isn’t something that you can create. I don’t know. It’s very strange — I very rarely have seen that, that a person (is so) universally respected and such a positive person that everybody wants to see him do well, even his competitors. It’s unique.
“Heaven forbid another college player like that would die, but I don’t know if you would get the same effect or reaction that Sam Foltz would, you know?”
As for the NFL’s reaction, that’s a wait-and-see; As of Friday morning, league officials hadn’t responded to an email to Land of 10 seeking comment. It’s certainly not without precedent among the “Big Four” North American sports leagues, even as a gesture: The Boston Celtics selected paralyzed Indiana standout Landon Turner in the 10th round of the 1982 NBA Draft; commissioner Adam Silver made retired ex-Baylor big man Isaiah Austin a “ceremonial” pick in between the No. 15 and 16 selections of the 2014 NBA Draft.
Happy Isaiah Austin was able to hear his name called at the NBA draft. Very cool to see.
— Kevin Love (@kevinlove) June 27, 2014
Also cool, and a little unexpected, is how the affection of Foltz’s teammates and coaches turned an old Cyclone — Kohl spent his college days being harassed by Nebraska specialists in the old Big Eight and Big 12 — into a bit of a Huskers fan.
“I was very impressed with coach (Mike) Riley and the way he handled the situation and kind of the way he made sure that everyone was represented at the funeral,” Kohl said. “The way that he’s handed this situation in almost a unifying way. It’s been very impressive. I’m happy to see them winning football games the way they are.
“I think just the biggest thing that has changed for me is, it’s made me appreciate each day a lot more. Truly, you are not guaranteed anything in this world. And everything you get is kind of a blessing, because you can’t determine when it’s your last one, when your last day is up. That whole experience really, really taught me that, because it was so sudden. So sudden.”
It leaves a mark, even after the scars heal. Kohl says he’s discussed renaming his national camp permanently after Foltz and Sadler, the latter of whom had just been accepted into law school at Stanford. Or by offering a scholarship to players who exemplify the traits espoused by both.
“And potentially making the families part of the selection process,” Kohl said. “(We’re) really trying to carry on their legacy so, in 25 years, the kicking and punting world, even though neither one made the NFL, they will be remembered. And that’s the goal. That’s the definite goal.
“We’re going to do something to commemorate both those guys next summer, in some form or capacity. It’s definitely something that I don’t wish on anybody. Because those guys, they both had such bright futures.”
Shining futures. Legal futures. NFL futures.
It doesn’t need to be fancy.
It just needs to be said.
“Hey, why doesn’t the NFL just do this?” Kohl asked. “Because it would mean the world to the family, I know that.”