Freshman punter Corey Fatony is Mizzou’s stress reliever

Corey Fatony averages 47.8 yards-per-punt heading into Week 3.

Gary Pinkel’s press conferences can be compared to history lectures. He talks in a monotonous voice, quietly and blandly, but it’s the stories he tells that are most noteworthy.

On Monday, Pinkel told two of them. One story on Kentrell Brothers, college football’s leading tackler, and the other on Corey Fatony, Mizzou’s freshman punter whose 47.8 yards per punt ranks as the nation’s ninth-best.

He’s shy, Fatony, but his leg’s certainly not. For the first time in almost a decade, a leg spoke to Pinkel, telling him to offer it a scholarship. He listened, and that offer has been key to both Pinkel’s play-calling thus far and even the way redshirt junior quarterback Maty Mauk has played.

“That’s something you really need to be good at — the kicking game,” Mauk said. “And when you’ve got a guy like Corey, who might even be leading the country, I mean, that definitely takes a lot of stress off of your back.”

The stress relief Fatony provides for Mauk appears to be tangible, too. Against Arkansas State, Mauk ran for 75 yards, the best since his 75-yard rushing total against Kentucky last year.

It’s Fatony’s early excellence that’s made such a big impression so far.

“Corey’s been doing a great job, and that’s kind of an understatement,” Pinkel said on Monday. “I asked him about two weeks ago, ‘Were you kind of scared or a little nervous?’ and he said no, he was just excited, and that’s kind of who he is.”

With a minute to go in the game, and the black and gold up 27-20 against the Red Wolves, Fatony walked back to the end zone. Catching the snap, dropping the ball and swinging his leg through, the contact “felt perfect,” Fatony said.

The ball was downed 60 yards away and essentially sealed the game.

That was only his 12th punt of the year, and it came in the most crucial time. Consistent and clutch, just how Pinkel drew it up.

As a high school junior, Fatony made a 53-yard field goal. As a senior, he averaged close to 43 yards per punt. The way he’s trending, it’s easy to understand the excitement surrounding the Franklin, Tennessee, native.

With a click of his mouth and a wowed look on his face, Pinkel added, “Knowing that you have a guy like him for the rest of the season and three more years … it’s really good.”

Nothing New

In high school, Fatony trained under the tutelage of the University of Tennessee’s second all-time leading point scorer, former placekicker James Wilhoit.

Wilhoit has mastered a system that features the elements of kicking and punting and their importances, and he now trains kickers across the Southeast. Fatony was a unique talent from the day he saw him, Wilhoit said. And in talking to him, even at 5-foot-11, his stature jumps out. “Corey was extremely athletic and mature,” Wilhoit said. “Most kickers are good athletes but they don’t have the explosion and power that Corey possesses. The moment I saw him kick I knew he had the chance to be elite. What I have been most impressed with though is his maturity.”

Wilhoit also has many stories to tell about his most recent star punter.

He’ll tell you about the beginning, when he suggested Fatony quit soccer as a sophomore. He’ll tell you about the day he sat down with Fatony’s parents and told them their son could play Division I football. He’ll tell you that Fatony’s character speaks louder than his play.

“Corey is a bit more reserved, but he is very humble and a hard worker,” Wilhoit said. “I have enjoyed training him and he now helps me as a counselor at my camps. He is great with young punters and kickers and is a high character guy who will be a leader on the team for years to come.”

Each story and each practice are what’s made him the 2015 version of last year’s best punter, Alabama’s J.K. Scott. The Crimson Tide’s punter led the nation in punting average in 2014 as a freshman with 48 yards per punt. And Wilhoit attributed it all to his ability to stay humble.

Asked about Fatony’s personality, sophomore wide receiver J’Mon Moore said, “He’s a cool guy.”

“Actually, his locker is about two down from mine,” Moore said. “I talked to him one day, and I remember he called himself a ninja.”

Why?

That’s a story Pinkel should tell next week.

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