Practice makes perfect

GAINESVILLE, Fla. –For hours and hours, Florida punter Kyle Christy would catch a football, and then drop it.

Catch it, then drop it.

Catch it, then drop it.

Christy was struggling with his timing. It was taking too long for him to catch the ball, drop it, and kick it, which is why walk-on David Lerner was UF's punter in the first half of last season. So Christy kept drilling again and again.

"There's a lot of hours of just -- it sounds really boring -- just catching balls and dropping a ball to myself over and over," Christy said. "But that's what it takes to be consistent with it."

All those boring hours apparently paid off. Christy has not only cut down his operational time to 2.1 seconds or better, he's also kicking the ball better than nearly everyone in the country. He's leading the Southeastern Conference in punting (46.5 yards per punt) and ranks fifth nationally.

More importantly, he's become a field-position weapon for the fourth-ranked Gators (5-0, 4-0 SEC).

"It's had a tremendous impact on our football team," coach Will Muschamp said. "His leg and him being able to flip the field and controlling the vertical field position has been critical to our success here this season."

Christy has already hit nine punts of 50 or more yards and has put nine inside the 20-yard line. That includes the three inside the 10-yard line he hit against LSU last Saturday. Christy averaged 49.1 yards on seven punts against the Tigers.

It wasn't good enough to earn him the SEC's Special Teams Player of the Week award, but on Wednesday he was named to Phil Steele's Midseason All-American second team.

The 6-foot-2, 199-pound Christy improved his timing enough to take over as UF's punter in the Auburn game and ended up averaging 40.9 yards per punt as a freshman last season. During the offseason and spring practices, Christy drilled his drops over and over again.

He also adjusted the way he held the football. Instead of holding the side of the ball, he's now holding it underneath.

"I was a little slow with my hands and [special teams coordinator] Coach [D.J.] Durkin and Coach Muschamp were always getting on me about it," Christy said. "During the offseason I worked a lot on it.

"It's been a lot more consistent for me."

Christy's improvement was evident pretty quickly. Though he averaged only 38.5 yards on four punts in the season opener against Bowling Green, he pinned the Falcons at their 11- and 2-yard lines, respectively. The next week he pinned Texas A&M inside its own 18-yard line on back-to-back punts in the third-quarter.

But it was his first punt against Tennessee that showed how much of a field-position weapon he can be. Florida lost 3 yards on its opening possession and was backed up on its own 7-yard line. Christy hit a 55-yarder that was fair caught at the Tennessee 38.

"Any time you can change field position like he can with the big hit that he's had at times this year, especially when you're backed up, those are the punts he's had that have been the most impressive to me," UF defensive coordinator Dan Quinn said. "Whether he's kicking out of his own end zone or backed up where now the field position has switched, as compared to they're 15-20 yards away from field goal range at the start of the drive. He has been a valuable performer for us."

Christy is affecting the way offensive coordinator Brent Pease calls plays, too. The Gators faced third-and-25 against LSU last Saturday, and instead of trying something too aggressive or risky, Pease opted to hand the ball off to Mike Gillislee and then punt.

"I said, 'Hey, let's get 5-8 yards and let him flip the field,' " Pease said.

Gillislee got 3 yards. Christy hit a 61-yard punt that pinned LSU at its own 6.

"He's a weapon," Pease said.

One that was created by hours of catching it, and dropping it.