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Randy York’s N-Sider

Take it straight from the father of Sam Koch (pronounced Cook), the Baltimore Ravens’ Super Bowl punter.“Sam was born to kick, even on the world's biggest stage,” says Dave Koch, who drives the bus taking Seward, Neb., kids of all ages to school every day except, of course, last Thursday, Friday and this Monday.

Dave, 54, took vacation time so he could make a 13½-hour, 1,100-mile drive in a rented van to New Orleans. Dave, wife Cindy, two of Sam’s brothers, a sister and a sister-in-law, among others, joined Sam’s wife, Nikki, and their three children in the Big Easy to experience what the world is tuning into on television – the Super Bowl – the most watched event on the planet since Sam kicked his first football while wearing diapers. 

“I started him really young kicking a football,” Dave said. “He was outside, running around bare-footed, and I threw him a football. As soon as he started to kick it, his diapers fell down around his ankles, but it didn’t faze him. He made sure he got that ball kicked back to me, and from then on, he kicked a ball almost every day.”

Kicking a football became part of Sam’s regimen – a routine element he wove into his daily life as an aspiring athlete who was bigger, more developed and yes, noticeably more talented than the vast majority of kids growing up in the same town of 7,000 – a community so close to Lincoln that it is part of the Capital City’s Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA).

Walk-On Kicked With Remarkable Consistency

“Sam had to kick a football almost every day, and he never missed when the weather was decent,” his dad said. “He’d kick all year long on the Concordia (University) field if he could. He kicked every night when I got home from work. He’d even find an open field to kick every day when we were on vacation in Wisconsin."

The “born to kick” description is true, figuratively and literally.

“It’s not like that’s the only thing he did when he played football,” his dad said. “I mean, Sam was a good overall athlete. When he played for Greg Welch (at Seward High School), he played center, guard, tight end, fullback and middle linebacker besides being the punter and placekicker. He was versatile, and he was competitive, and not just in football."

How competitive?When Sam played Legion baseball, he threw a no-hitter against York to help Seward win the district championship.

80-Yard Punt in Driving Rainstorm Sealed Win

Not that long ago, Dave Koch went into a local grocer and someone asked if he was the Baltimore punter’s dad. “Yes,” he said. “Do you know Sam?”

“I played against him in high school,” the young man said. “I played for Beatrice, and we were in a real tight game – a game we thought we'd win when we pinned Seward back to its own goal line in a driving rainstorm.”

Dave smiles, knowing what's coming next. “Your son punted the ball 80 yards in that rainstorm,” the young man said. “We didn’t win, but we still talk about that punt.”

Such stories are part of Sam Koch's legacy.

Omaha Roncalli coaches, players and fans have one if their own. They remember Koch kicking a 43-yard field goal to beat Roncalli with three seconds left.

He Can Kick, Run, Pass and Intercept Passes

Koch’s younger brother, Chase, helped coach in Nebraska City, where fans remember Sam turning a game around by intercepting a late pass, returning it for a touchdown and then adding a field goal for good measure. “I still remember that interception,” a player told Chase. “Your brother's good.”

Sam is good for the Ravens, too. They turn him loose for first downs, not to mention the chances he takes as a holder for Baltimore’s placekicker. “Sam’s good at reading whatever he sees on the field,” his dad said. “He knows when it’s right to take a calculated risk. He’s a very good student of the game, and he’s so focused on everything, he doesn’t get the jitters.”

Everything becomes second nature when you’re born to kick and your dad and brother go above and beyond to help you time after time after time.

“When Sam walked on at Nebraska, (former NFL punter) Kyle Larson had the job, so Sam had to wait his turn,” his dad said. “He never stopped kicking, and he always stayed in shape. He kicked so muchthat he kept wearing out his shoes. He’d kick the seams off the ball. It seems like we were always buying him a new pair of shoes.

Koch Gets Kick from Life, Makes Millions Doing It 

Today, Koch makes millions rocketing footballs off his right foot and making them land wherever they maximize the Ravens’ field position. Punting is an acquired art, kind of like learning to land a plane on an aircraft carrier.

Koch is one superlative punter, but he's never been overconfident nor will he ever be self-satisfied. That's what happens when you embrace and accept process at the same time at Nebraska. “That’s the way we brought him up,” his dad said. “It starts with his Grandma Helen and his mom. We’ve never let Sam become Mr. Big Shot. We never wanted any of his success to go to his head, and it never has. He works hard in-season and off-season. He absolutely loves what he’s doing, and he does it very well.”

That does not mean that Sam’s talents were always appreciated in a small town. His dad remembers when a coach asked his pitcher to walk Sam intentionally every time he came to the plate. “He was only eight or nine years old, and that’s not right. This was Little League baseball,” Dave Koch said. “They demanded to see his birth certificate, and they were surprised because he was so much bigger than everyone else.”

Sam asked his dad if he could bat left-handed while he waited for his next intentional walk. “Sure,” he said. “Go ahead.”And get this. In his first-ever at-bat from the left side, Sam walloped a homerun.

Biggest Kid Stood Up for Best Little Soccer Friend

Sam, the biggest kid his age, had abest friend, Jessie Carr, who was the smallest.Jessie got picked on in soccer when they were both little, but Sam found a unique way to bring such hazing to a stop. Let's just say that a little extra oomph here or there can work both ways.

Sam Koch rarely meets a challenge he can't handle. He has, in fact, become such a skilled punter with obvious athleticism that his Super Bowl coaches don't hesitate to bless a run-or-pass fake punt or a two-point conversion after fielding the snap. And Raven fans aren't the only ones applauding either. When Sam scored his first career NFL touchdown on a fake field goal against the Oakland Raiders last November, Memorial Stadium roared while watching the replay the next week on HuskerVision’s big screens.

Will Super Bowl Win Warrant July Fourth Celebration?

Tenacity is an apt descriptor for Koch, who honed that trait while growing up in a town that celebrates the Fourth of July like no other place in Nebraska.If the Ravens win the Super Bowl in N’awlins, Seward will have a nativeson/bona fide hero. Who knows? Sam might be the celebrity on the biggest float in the state’s most publicized Fourth of July Celebration.

And the best thing about that would be this: Seward helped make that feisty toddler in diapers one of the world's best punters instead of the other way around. Some might even say that Sam Koch was born to kick because he was born in one of the best little towns in the U.S.A.Koch not only played for the only college in Division I football that won more games than any other in the last 50 years, but also played for the only school that sold out every game over the last half century.

More Than Anyone, Dad Relishes What If?’ Game

Talk about history. Sunday, 110 million people will watch the first Super Bowl matching two brothers against each other. TheNFL teams that they coach are the last ones standing in 2013.Wouldn’t it be something if Sam Koch’s foot launched an 80-yard punt?

What if he ran for a first down?Or threw for a two-point conversion?How astronomical are the odds of Sam scoring another touchdown in the same season?What sounds far-fetched to you would not surprisesomeone sitting in the expensive seats ... Sam's dad.

Dave Koch, after all, was the one who threw Sam that first football and asked him to kick it back when he was still in diapers. And Sam's dad is more convinced now than ever that his son was born to kick ... even on the world's biggest stage.

Send a comment to ryork@huskers.com (Please include current residence)

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