In the few minutes of calm before a Chapman football practice begins, sophomore punter Elias Deeb and sophomore defensive end Ricky Medeiros walk out to Wilson Field.
Medeiros stops and holds a football to the ground, setting up a snap. In a matter of seconds, it shoots backward from his hands and into Deeb’s, who, with one swift kick, sends the ball hurtling through the air.
“It’s like a fluid machine,” said senior kicker Lucas Alfonso. “If the snap is good and it goes right to (Deeb), it will make it impossible for the other team to block the kick. It’s pretty simple, yet if it’s not perfect, it can screw everybody up.”
Successful punters are one of the main sources of preventing opposing teams from advancing down the field. They are an integral – but often overlooked – part of football, Deeb said. Despite this, Deeb has made a name for himself at Chapman.
“Punters can definitely go unnoticed,” Deeb said. “That’s just how it is, but if you can excel and make a difference, then people will notice.”
Last season, Deeb ranked No. 13 overall in Division III football with a 41.9 yard-per-punt average. D3football.com also recognized Deeb with an All-American Honorable Mention, making him the first Chapman football player to earn the honor since Mark Shafer in 2001.
“The team that has the stronger punter gains field,” said head coach Bob Owens. “A good punt can create 10 to 12 yards, and where you start on the field is relative to your ability to score. We’ve had several games where it’s been meaningful in the outcome.”
As a child, Deeb was mainly a soccer player. When he started playing football in fifth grade, he saw punting as a natural transition from being a goalie.
“I figured it would be a great way to fall in love with the sport,” Deeb said, “But until about the seventh or eighth grade, I really had no focus.”
Mark Mulkerin, Deeb’s punting coach and mentor since seventh grade, inspired him to take football more seriously.
“(Mulkerin) has a great mindset and genuinely wants to help athletes,” Deeb said. “During the summer, we would practice at Chapman five days a week. You have to have a consistent schedule and make sure you have a good routine going.”
The key to pulling off a successful punt is maximizing distance and hang time, Deeb said.
The longer the ball is in the air and the farther it travels, the harder it is for the opposing team to return it. While getting the ball as far down the field as possible may be the punter’s main goal, it cannot be done alone. Before each punt, Deeb and his teammates huddle to make sure everyone is on the same page.
“(Deeb) doesn’t just punt in a vacuum,” Owens said. “He’s got 10 other guys on the field; he’s just the one kicking the ball.”
Although punting is often thought of as a lonely position on the team, for Deeb, this couldn’t be further from the truth. He considers his strong bond with his teammates a major factor in his success.
“I try to never really isolate myself,” Deeb said. “The punters and kickers always stick together no matter what, but I try to engage with other positions as much as possible. There are actually a ton of respect for our kicker, Lucas, and me, because they know we bail them out of situations.”