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Record hang time: Ravens punter went from comp pick to legendary longevity

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When the Baltimore Ravens started the search for their next punter in 2006, few knew Sam Koch would become their selection.

And absolutely no one would’ve envisioned Koch surpassing a couple of Ravens legends in longevity.

When the Ravens face the Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday, Koch will set an all-time franchise mark by playing in his 230th game. With an attention to detail unseen by many and overlooked athleticism, Koch has put together a remarkable streak that will soon rank ahead of Terrell Suggs (229) and Ray Lewis (228).

“Coming into the league, it was one of those things ... I wanted to come out here and prove my talents were worthwhile in this league and to take it game by game,” Koch said. "And now I look back, and it’s 15 years, 200 and I don’t know what the exact number is, but 200-some games, and it’s like, ‘Man, that’s been quite the ride.’”

Unbeknownst to Koch, that ride began as the result of a compromise and an unplanned trip to the Midwest. After losing Dave Zastudil to the Cleveland Browns in free agency, Ravens director of college scouting (and now general manager) Eric DeCosta told then-special teams coordinator Frank Gansz Jr. to find a new punter. DeCosta didn’t care how long it took or how many he needed to see. He just wanted his top punter, and he’d find a spot to take him.

Gansz worked out all 10 punters invited to the combine and wasn’t impressed. So, he convinced an initially skeptical DeCosta to allow him to fly to Nebraska and work out someone who wasn’t even named among the nation’s top punters by the Omaha World Herald, the local newspaper. Gansz returned raving about how Koch is a strapping athlete who just happens to punt.

The coaches wanted to draft Koch in the fifth round. DeCosta thought he would be available in the seventh round.

“I split the difference and took him in the sixth,” DeCosta said, referring to the 203rd overall selection that year, which was a compensatory pick. “The coaches were worried we would not get him, but we did. I always thought it was cool that we drafted a punter and he was non-combine, and he was the best one.”

Koch, 38, established himself as one of the league's best punters for how he has redefined the position with an assortment of new punts designed to reduce returns. But, more than that, he's perhaps the most versatile special teams player in NFL history.

He served as the team's emergency quarterback for years and remains a perfect passer. On fake punts and field goals, he's 7-for-7 for 82 yards for a career passer rating of 115.5 (trailing only Johnny Hekker's 13 completions for most by a punter since the 1970 merger, according to research by Elias Sports Bureau).

Former Ravens special-teams coordinator Jerry Rosburg referred to Koch as "the greatest holder that has ever played the game." Koch has placed the ball down for kicker Justin Tucker, the most accurate kicker in NFL history, in addition to two other Pro Bowl kickers (Matt Stover and Billy Cundiff).

Over his career, Koch has scored a touchdown on a 7-yard scramble off a fake field goal against Oakland in 2012, recorded a 2-point conversion off a fake extra point against Pittsburgh in 2011 and rushed for three first downs.

Koch also has made 17 special-teams tackles, and he has wowed teammates with one he didn't make. In a 2012 playoff game at Denver, Koch nearly caught record-setting sprinter Trindon Holliday from behind on a punt return for a touchdown.

That's one of the few times Koch has not come out on top. He's the home run king of the annual charity softball games and the undisputed champion of cornhole, when there were regular tournaments in the locker room.

"I would put a game check on Sam against any Cornhole player in the world," long-snapper Morgan Cox said. "Pound for pound, I would say Sam is the best athlete on the team."

For Koch, it's all in the details. When he leaves his house, he makes sure the lawn is perfect. When he arrives at the facility, the car is typically washed.

On the field, Koch can hit a punt 50 yards downfield with a 4.8-second hang time. But, if the ball didn't hit off his foot the right way, Koch is upset.

"If there was a word above perfectionist, I would say that’s Sam," Cox said.

Even though Koch has been selected to only one Pro Bowl (2015), his mark on the position is more timeless and revered by those who understand the intricacies of it. To combat dangerous returners such as Dante Hall, Josh Cribbs and Antonio Brown, Koch came up with punts that would cause difficulty in catching the ball and discourage returns.

While no one will say how many kinds of kicks are in his "golf bag," Koch has punts that knuckle, hook and even boomerang.

"Sam is going to be remembered, in his craft, for changing the way punters punt,” Ravens coach John Harbaugh said.

Koch becomes the second punter to lead an NFL franchise in career games played. The Chiefs' Dustin Colquitt is the other.

What distinguishes Koch's mark is he has never missed a game. His consecutive games streak is the third-longest active one and ranks 19th in NFL history.

Koch's work ethic was instilled from watching his father, who was a warehouse manager for an exhaust plant in Seward, Nebraska.

"It’s the way my dad approached work every day. He never missed a day, [and] he never took a vacation day," Koch said.

Over the years, Koch has been on the field to watch Lewis and Ed Reed in their primes. He witnessed Joe Flacco grow from a rookie to a Super Bowl MVP. He has seen Lamar Jackson revolutionize the game with his MVP season.

Last Sunday, Koch tied the franchise career games mark against the Cincinnati Bengals and head coach Zac Taylor, who was a teammate of Koch's at Nebraska.

How much longer will Koch play? He says he doesn't look beyond that day's practice and focuses on being part of the best special teams trio that has ever played the game, along with Tucker and Cox.

"I look forward to many years and many more punts," he said.

Just 110 players have played more games than Koch in the history of the league. He would need to play another 10 years to surpass kicker Morten Andersen's NFL record of 382 games.

"Baltimore knows all about the Iron Man and Cal Ripken, and he’s revered rightfully so," Cox said. "And here is Sam doing what he’s done for 15 years and is getting really stronger. He’s like the Ravens' Benjamin Button."