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OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The outskirts of his home in Westminster remind Baltimore Ravens rookie punter Sam Koch of his roots in rural Nebraska.
So far, the adjustment from growing up in the Midwest to working and living on the East Coast has been fairly seamless for Koch along with his wife and three children.
â€œItâ€™s pretty comfortable for us in making that transition,â€ said Koch, the Ravensâ€™ sixth-round draft pick from Nebraska. â€œEverything is going really well. I couldnâ€™t complain about a thing. Itâ€™s become our new home, and it kind of gives me that feeling of Nebraska again.â€
Besides establishing a comfort zone for his wife, Nikki, and four-month old Kamdyn, Braxtyn, 2, and Ryan, 7, Koch has made an imprint on the football field.
After six games for the first-place Ravens, Koch is averaging 43.9 yards per punt to rank 10th in the AFC and 17th overall in the league.
Koch, 24, beat out veteran Leo Araguz during a training camp competition and hasnâ€™t looked back ever since.
"He’s got a big leg," long snapper Matt Katula said. "He’s hitting the ball with a lot of confidence."
Not only did Koch average a career-high 48 yards on seven punts with two placed inside the 20-yard line in a win over the San Diego Chargers, but he earned a rare distinction with his ability to tackle.
Koch, which is pronounced â€œCook,â€ leveled Chargers punt returner Eric Parker with a hit that launched Parker airborne and left him on the ground for a few minutes.
â€œHe is corn-fed and Nebraska-bred,â€ Ravens coach Brian Billick said. â€œHeâ€™s not going to shy away from contact. That was great to see.â€
For a 6-foot-1, 230-pound former high school fullback and linebacker, it was an experience he hadnâ€™t felt in several years.
â€œThat was so much fun,â€ Koch said. â€œI miss that aspect of the game because I havenâ€™t been able to do that since high school. Everybody likes it when the kicker gets the hit. I hope I can do that again sometime.â€
Drafted on special teams coordinator Frank Ganszâ€™s recommendation after he set a Cornhuskers single-season record with a 46.5 yard average as a senior, Koch has emerged as a solid replacement for former punter Dave Zastudil, who signed with the Cleveland Browns during free agency.
With a long punt of 60 yards and 11 downed inside opponentsâ€™ 20-yard line, Koch has blended distance and hang time.
â€œI just think Samâ€™s doing a great job,â€ Katula said.
â€œItâ€™s all about timing, and he gets the ball out of there as fast as Dave did. Heâ€™s very calm, very collected and he doesnâ€™t get too up or down.
"You donâ€™t want to ever be arrogant, but it takes confidence in your abilities. Everyone knew what he did in college, and that has translated into the NFL.â€
Koch has roughly two seconds once Katula snaps the ball to catch it and get the ball off his foot ahead of the defense.
On 37 punts, he hasnâ€™t come close to having one punt blocked and has a net average of 37.4 yards with one touchback.
The low point for Koch was a 10-yard shank out of bounds on national television in a loss to the Denver Broncos, which earned him a sideline tongue-lashing from Billick.
â€œI need to do better than that,â€ Koch said. â€œThat obviously wasnâ€™t the greatest punt, but everybody makes mistakes.â€
Baltimore invested a three-year, $1.13 million contract in Koch, who cemented his status ahead of Araguz by averaging 51 yards on five punts in the third preseason game against the Minnesota Vikings.
â€œI knew I had some big shoes to fill with Zastudil gone and them bringing in Leo, who has a lot of experience,â€ said Koch, who has doubled as the holder for kicker Matt Stover’s 10 perfect field goal attempts. â€œI knew I had to show them. There was a lot of pressure put on me, but I was up to the task. Now, Iâ€™m going to do everything to prove to them that they made the right decision so I can play and live here for a long time.â€
Aaron Wilson covers the Baltimore Ravens for the Carroll County Times in Westminster, Maryland