INDIANAPOLIS University of Houston punter Richie Leone has known for a while that kicking would be his ticket to the dream of landing in the NFL.
When I was in 8th grade, I was winning kicking competitions with only high schoolers and I was the youngest kid there, Leone said on Thursday. It was kind of a moment in my life where I chose the kicking route.
Leone is one of five punters that were invited to participate in the 2014 NFL Combine in Indianapolis and he definitely earned the chance.
Leone, who also served as the Cougars place kicker in 2013, was named a 2nd Team All American in 2013 having 73 punts for an average of 43.2 yards. Leone ranked third nationally as 34 of his 73 landed inside the 20 (46.6 percent) while pinning 14 (19.2 percent) inside the 10-yard line.
The Roswell, Georgia native was also a semifinalist for the 2013 Ray Guy Award.
All those accolades were special but getting being consider amongst the countries elite is something completely different.
It s a dream; it s something as a kid you watch on TV and competing, although I would have to look up the kicking stats on line, Leone said with a laugh. I m really enjoying the moment right now and sharing it back with my family as they ve been calling me non-stop.
Included in those constant phone calls are some from his father, who Leone says has been there every step of the way supporting him.
Me and my dad, we learned together, Leone said. He has been my number one fan, my number one advisor and we haven t looked back.
Leone has consistently improved throughout his years at the University of Houston and he attributes that to a better knowledge of the game.
He took advantage of being in the same city which one of the game s best punters calls home. Leone has always admired the work of Texans punter Shane Lechler, and although the two have never met, he hasn t missed the chance to learn from him.
I ve been to a couple of Texans games, one this past year and when he played for the Raiders, Leone said. My dad and I got tickets just so we can watch Lechler warm up so I can emulate him a little bit.
Leading up to the combine, Leone trained for 3 weeks with fellow Houston-area kicker and Rice star Chris Boswell. The two have developed a good relationship over the years, despite the rivalry that exists between the two schools.
There is a great deal of respect, mutually for us and he s a great kicker, Leone said. It s nice that two specialist from the Houston-area are here at the combine.
Leone and the rest of the specialists are scheduled to do their on-field work outs on Friday. The kicker drills, however, will be a little different than what guys at other positions will be doing.
Not a lot of the guys do the 40 or the bench press, but I d probably get 225, 8 or nine times but I don t want to throw a shoulder out, Leone said.