Self-Taught, Self-Motivated: Matt Rinehart
Rinehart never looked up to a punter in the NFL. In fact, he rarely watches the NFL to this day. He never went to an instructional camp. And he never had a coach or mentor to show him the finer points of punting, but for the past 10 years, he’s certainly had a knack for it. Through repetitions and experimenting, Rinehart has been his own teacher.
“Matt’s very attentive when it comes to his technique and everything he needs to improve on,” said David McCallister, who has been working closely with Kent State’s special teams over the past four seasons as a student assistant. “He listens very well. And when he’s struggling, he goes back and tries to improve on certain areas whether it’s his drop, his step or his follow-through. He’ll work on it a lot in practice and on his own.”
While at Dover High School, Rinehart was a versatile weapon. He played wide receiver, defensive back and kick returner. From his prospective, serving as the team’s kicker and punter was just something he also happened to do. But for the Kent State coaching staff, punting was the obvious choice and Rinehart has held the starting role since the beginning of his freshman season.
“I never thought I would go to college for punting,” Rinehart said.
At the Division I level, Rinehart was forced to make a number of adjustments.
“In high school, I never had to worry about the game speed and operation time,” Rinehart said. “In college, they’re coming after you.”
Every time the Golden Flashes line up for a punt, Rinehart’s goal is to get his ball kicked within 1.95 seconds of the snap of the ball.
“I never went to any camps,” Rinehart said. “So when I came here, I had to change my drop, change my steps…I changed just about everything when I got here.”
However, there has been one thing that’s never changed throughout Rinehart’s career. Growing up just outside of Stark County, the small town of Dover takes it football seriously. And no one took Rinehart’s football games more to heart than his parents Ken and Jane, who have never missed a game, home or away, at any level. Usually the first ones in line at the ticket will call, the Rineharts have traveled far and wide, and for home games, there can be as many as 10-12 family members in attendance.
“They’re always the first ones there… even before the team’s there,” Rinehart said of his parents. “They always support me and they’re always there for me.”
On Sept. 10, when the Golden Flashes hosted Louisiana, Rinehart described the weather conditions as “the toughest he’s ever played in.” But that didn’t stop him from averaging 42.9 yards on nine boots, including three inside the Louisiana 20. Unlike other punters and kickers, rain and wind don’t seem to affect Rinehart much at all.
“For some reason he’s always been able to punt well into the wind,” McCallister said. “And he gets really good hang time, which allows his teammates to get down the field and make a play.”
In his time at Kent State, the most memorable play for Rinehart came on a fake at Baylor in 2009. Although some punters are occasionally asked to run with the football, Rinehart had the extremely unique duty of being the “pitch man” on an option play. Making one of the most athletic plays you’ll ever see from a punter, he caught Brian Lainhart’s pitch on the run and darted nine yards up field for a Flashes’ first down.
“In high school, I got the ball a lot,” Rinehart said. “So that kind of took me back to my glory days.”
“Matt’s athletic enough that he’s able to do whatever is asked of him,” McCallister said. “The all-around experience he got in high school also gives him an understanding of what it takes in the weight room and with conditioning and a better understanding of the game as a whole.”
As for punting at the next level, Rinehart has given it thought, but he doesn’t let it get in the way of his current goals.
“I just want to concentrate on this season and my academics,” Rinehart said. “And if it comes, I’ll worry about it then.”
Described as extremely quiet and shy as a freshman, Rinehart is now known for being one of the team jokesters off the field. When away from football and the classroom, Rinehart is an avid hunter. He can tell you exactly when deer season begins and finds ways to work bowhunting into a hectic schedule.
“This sounds crazy,” Rinehart said of hunting during football season. “But usually what I do is come home Saturday after the game (to Dover) and wake up about 4:30, hunt in the morning and come back to campus for football in the afternoon. Once the time changes I’m able to hunt Monday nights too.”
While connecting with a buck from 50 yards away may not be visible in a Kent State record book years from now, Rinehart’s punting accomplishments will be. His 42.7 yard average in 2010 is the highest single season performance in school history and his current career average of 41.4 yards per game is also tops among the program’s best punters. Not bad for a guy who figured he’d try it once.