It’s been a week since Nebraska opened fall camp and since that first day, punter Sam Foltz’s presence has been everywhere.
It still is. His number 27 is on every helmet at practice, and it’s painted on the practice field.
As coach Mike Riley said in that opening press conference, Foltz wasn’t just a good punter, he was a great one. And with his absence, Nebraska needs to fill it with someone else for the first time in years. Whoever tries to fill Foltz’s position will be stepping into shoes that might not ever fit. But that position will be important for the 2016 Huskers.
So with that in mind, after a week of deliberately not talking about the football side of the punting equation, here are the two young kickers vying for the punting position:
Who are they?
Caleb Lightbourn is a true freshman out of Washougal, Wash. At one point, Kohl’s Professional Kicking camps ranked him the No. 2 punter in the class of 2016. 247sports ranked as the No. 7 punter and Scout had him at 11th.
Isaac Armstrong is a redshirt freshman who walked on to the program in January. Armstrong is a Lincoln native and attended Lincoln Southwest. He made first-team All-State as a senior in 2015.
What did they do last year?
Lightbourn was a 3-star recruit from Camas High School and was hurt most of his senior season. He punted just four times but averaged 45 yards per kick. In 2014, Lightbourn also averaged 45 yards per punt.
In this video, he flexes his talent. Lightbourn bombs 60-yard punts and drills 50-yard field goals.
Armstrong was the kicker and punter for Lincoln Southwest and averaged more than 40 yards per punt. Armstrong was also a soccer player.
In his Hudl tape, his first punt travels nearly 80 yards.
Why they could break out?
This question is tricky, because one of them is essentially forced to break out.
Both Lightbourn and Armstrong are in unique situations. It’s not often that freshmen punters are thrown into starting roles. Hardly ever, really. Drew Brown will be set on the place-kicking duties, and it appears Zach Darlington is settling in well as the holder, so the two freshmen will essentially be battling it out for the starting punter position.
Lightbourn was kicking with the first-team punt group in practice Tuesday, so it could be assumed he’s leading the position battle so far, but it’s really too early to tell.
But Riley does want to set a starter soon.
“What we’ll do is we’ve got Caleb Lightbourn, who we recruited, signed and anticipated redshirting,” Riley said in his opening press conference last Wednesday. “With Caleb and Isaac Armstrong, who is with us, we are going to start off with a competition. We would like to make a decision pretty soon about who that is. But we want to kind of open it up right at the start.”
The urgency comes with the difference in punt protection schemes. Lightbourn is a right-footed punter, Armstrong a lefty. Protection depends on the dominant foot of the punter.
“I can’t tell you a specific date, because I don’t know it,” Riley said of naming a starter. “We don’t want it to be too long.”
The biggest question will be not only who will start, but if that starter can make the sort of impact Foltz had on a game. Foltz constantly pinned the opponent down inside their own 5-yard line. Fifteen times last year he pinned teams inside their own 20. Foltz averaged almost 45 yards per punt and had a boot of 67 yards in one game.
It is doubtful Lightbourn or Armstrong will have stats like that. They won’t be All-Big Ten punters as freshman. But it will be important for one of them to be better than expected, to try to fill a good chunk of Foltz’s shoes, no matter how big they may be.
Chris Heady is a staff writer for Landof10 and covers Nebraska football and recruiting. He takes movie and story suggestions at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @heady_chris.