The Seattle Dragons is one of eight teams in the new XFL, a professional spring football league that kicks off its season this weekend. On Wednesday morning, I attended a team practice at Memorial Stadium. Afterward, I had the good fortune to hang out with Brock Miller, who told me about life as a punter.
In football folklore, punters are often perceived as solitary figures who linger alone on the sidelines, removed from the team and waiting for their moment to step on the field. I asked Brock about this narrative. With a slight chuckle, he confirmed it’s at least partially true. He explained that punters (and kickers) don’t practice every day. “Our legs are kind of like a pitcher’s arms,” he said, “You can’t go kick yourself silly because then you wouldn’t last a ten week season.” Because of this, specialists –punters, kickers and long snappers–often are off on their own. Other players sometimes joke that they’re not doing anything, but that’s not the case. “We’re all grinders, putting the time in,” says Brock, “And on game day, when I can hit a long punt and flip the field or I can pin the other team’s offense inside their own ten, that’s when your hard work comes to fruition and your defense is running out on the field and they’ve got 90 yards to defend. That’s when you feel more like a part of the team.”
I asked Brock about the mentality of a punter and what qualities are necessary to do the job well. He said he once heard a quote from an interview with retired NFL punter Mat McBriar, who said not to get caught up in the emotion of the game. As such, Brock believes that a punter must stay level-headed no matter how big the moment is. Regardless of the situation, the punter’s job is the same. Win or lose, there are four quarters to a game, and it’s not over until it’s over. Whatever emotions come up, be they high or low, they can wait until after the game.
This sensibility will serve Brock well as the XFL, with its unique rules, creates new challenges for punters. Unlike the NFL, where gunners can move from the line of scrimmage at the snap, gunners in the XFL can’t move until the ball is kicked. And if the punt goes out of bounds, it’s automatically placed at the 35 yard line or where the ball left the field, whichever is most advantageous for the receiving team. Although this requires him to be more finessed with his directional kicking, Brock is unruffled. “It’s just a tweak. It doesn’t change my technique kicking the ball. It’s just adjusting my goals.” The purpose of the punting rules is to allow more returns. The irony isn’t lost on Brock. “They do want more returns,” he says, “whereas the punter’s goal is to basically eliminate returns.”
Despite the challenges of his position and the XFL rules, Brock exudes a gracious optimism, which is rooted, no doubt, in his impeccable work ethic. He believes that every experience is an opportunity to learn and improve, steadily taking him another step closer to his goals. Working with special teams coach Steve Hagen, he decides his approach for the week. He keeps notes on how each day goes, reviews them every evening and applies them to practice the next day. Brock says he loves challenges because they add to his abilities and make him a better player.
Brock gets his strong work ethic from his father, who was a professional triathlete. When Brock was young, he watched how his father prepared and worked to get ready for competition. This instilled the work ethic he has today. Brock says his father is his biggest supporter and he doesn’t know if he’d be here today without his guidance. Shortly before Brock left his home in San Diego for college at Southern Utah University, his father gave him a plaque with a picture of him kicking and engraved with scripture from Romans 12:2. These particular words were his father’s way of sending Brock out into the world and have been a source of comfort ever since. Brock’s path has not always been easy. During his draft eligible year in college, he didn’t receive any calls. In the NFL, he’s been the number two punter off-season for a few teams– Los Angeles Rams, New York Giants & San Francisco 49ers–but ultimately didn’t make the rosters. These experiences have been discouraging but haven’t broken his resolve. Romans 12:2 and his faith in God’s plan have kept him grounded.
Outside of football, Brock is having fun exploring Seattle. He lives downtown and says the vibe is “pretty cool.” He takes the monorail to work every morning, but not before stopping at Starbucks on the way. “I didn’t drink coffee before I came here. Now I drink it every day.” Brock is clearly acclimating.
With the start of the season just days away, I asked Brock what he was most excited about. He said it was being part of XFL 2020 and the first Seattle franchise. “Brand new team. Brand new year. To be selected by them is an honor. It’s pretty cool to have your name cemented in history as the first punter for the Seattle Dragons.”
The Seattle Dragons play the DC Defenders this Saturday, February 8 at Audi Field in Washington, DC. Their first home game is Saturday, February 15 against the Tampa Bay Vipers, at Century Link Field. For more information, go here.
Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.