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November 14, 2013

Leone Excelling Yet Again

The position of punter is a quirky one at any level. The superstitions that many that play the position have; their routine as they run on the field, as they line up and of course as they actually punt the ball, is easy to see and sometimes fun to watch. When a coach at any level finds a consistent punter it often becomes a position that fades into the background. Have inconsistency at the position and it generally makes bad situations worse.

Houston Cougars senior punter Richie Leone has been the definition of consistency and for the third consecutive season it has been recognized by the one governing body that defines great play at his position. The Ray Guy Award is handed out annually by the Augusta Sports Council; which recently narrowed this year's field to ten semi-finalist including, for the third consecutive season, Leone.

Leone has always been quick to point out that awards will take care of themselves and to include his teammates in any spotlight he is in.

"It is definitely fun to be recognized with that group," said Leone this week. "It means I have done well this year. It means the hard work is paying off some but it also means some other guys on our punt team are doing a good job and making plays on the field too. Since I have been here, this is the best that the punt team has ever done. Guys like Earl Foster, Alex Tillman, Adrian McDonald, Trevon Stewart have all done a great job. They are guys that contribute on defense and are looking for ways to contribute to the team in any way. Coach asks them to be on special teams and they gladly do it and it shows how much they are willing to do to win."

Like all competitors, Leone wants every opportunity to impact the outcome of the game. This season he started out handling all of the Cougars' kick-offs, field goals, extra points and of course the punting duties. A couple weeks back head coach Tony Levine decided to take the field goals and extra points off of Leone's plate in an effort to find more consistency at the position and to keep Leone's leg fresher for his other duties.

"I definitely think that is has kept my legs a little fresher during the week," he admitted. "I don't have to warm up as much into the net before and during the games. It is also three different leg swings for the different kicks so by taking one away it helps be a little more consistent in the other two. I think it is going to help us out and also give another opportunity to someone else."

When Levine pulled the kicking duties off of Levine beginning in the South Florida game, he admitted in hindsight that he might have put a bit too much on Leone's plate this season. That said, he is still very confident in the senior's abilities.

"He [Leone] is very confident in his abilities, as certainly we are," said Levine. "I think that starts with his punting and his kick-offs. I think his gross average is a little bit down from years past but his performance has been the best that it has been since he has been here in terms of placing opponents inside the 20 and inside the 10. He has had a number of his punts from around mid-field so his average therefor is a bit down but you could see what he is capable of last week against Central Florida where he hit a 62 yarder."

"I have said this for a while now but I think he is the best punter in the country and he is very deserving of any individual attention or awards that he is up for," Levine added.

This season the Ray Guy award began recognizing, on a weekly basis, the top punter in the country based on the previous weekends performance. Leone is one of only two players this season that has won the award multiple times. Finalists for this year's award will be announced November 25 with the award presentation set for December 12.

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