By Todd Golden
TERRE HAUTE — Punter Pat McAfee admitted that he was nervous before he made his professional debut for the Indianapolis Colts last Thursday against the Minnesota Vikings.
And that nervousness was just reserved for his duties as the holder for the Colts.
It’s an emotion McAfee said he doesn’t experience much, but if the rookie had the butterflies, he didn’t show it against the Vikings as he had a successful maiden voyage as the Colts’ new punter.
In a game where both the Colts and Vikings’ offenses weren’t moving the ball, McAfee had plenty of chances to shine and he did. He averaged 49.9 yards in seven punts, including a 63-yard bomb.
“I very rarely get nervous, but I was anxious to get that first one out of the way. But as soon as I hit that first ball, I hit it well, and I really felt comfortable and I got calm. I know I’m not a guy who wins a game, but I want to help win games, and that’s the approach I take,” McAfee said.
His performance against the Vikings validated what’s been a successful training camp. It helps McAfee immensely that the two Colts he works with most — long snapper Justin Snow and kicker Adam Vinatieri — are two of the longest-tenured players at their positions in the league.
“There’s 24 years of experience in front of me and behind me. I’m trying to learn and pick their brains as much as possible,” McAfee said. “Justin pulled me aside last week before the game and told me what to expect. He really calmed me down a lot. He and Adam both have told me to slow it down because it’s a long season. More so than anything, they want to keep me fresh, because all I want to do is go out and hit balls and do something.”
McAfee’s duties as holder are a new world to the rookie from West Virginia. His first career hold at any level took place in the preseason game last Thursday. He never held in his career prior to Thursday because he had always been the person doing the kicker. He was a placekicker for the Mountaineers and when he was in high school.
“I was nervous about that before the Minnesota game, but I just keep working on it. I can’t see enough snaps as far as I’m concerned, that’s the way Justin, Adam and I have been working on it,” McAfee said.
McAfee will take over a job that’s had few occupants since the Colts moved from Baltimore in 1984. The Colts are defined by long-time punters like Rohn Stark and the man McAfee will replace … Hunter Smith.
“Anytime you come into the NFL, you’re going to be replacing somebody who did a very good job. Hunter Smith was a great punter. I’m not trying to fill his shoes, I’m just trying to come in, do my thing, and work some kinks out.”
McAfee figures to shake things up on the Colts thanks to his outgoing personality. A free-spirit, McAfee’s most famous off-field excursion, by far, was his foray into pro wrestling before the NFL Draft in March.
According to the Charleston (W. Va.) Daily Mail, McAfee had a mysterious “beef” with pig-masked IWA wrestler War Pig. McAfee got in a South Charleston, W.Va. ring, and after taking an initial beating from War Pig, dropped him with two kicks to win the match.
McAfee wasn’t talking much about wrestling at Colts camp on Tuesday. Like any rookie, he’s trying to acclimate his personality to that of the team.
“My first couple of days I kept my mouth shut. I didn’t know anybody, I just relaxed and tried to learn my role. Once I started to loosen up and get to know people, I came to realize this is such a nice team and such a great organization,” McAfee said. “I’m trying to get Adam back to the old Adam, so he’s having fun too. There’s no better kicker in the league, so if I can keep him on my good side, that can’t be a bad thing.”