The importance of a punter can often get overlooked when evaluating the strengths and weaknesses of a football team. But when you have one as solid as Josh Hubner, it's clear the effect one can have on the team's overall success as a season wears on. Hubner was a difference maker in number of Sun Devil contests in 2012, seemingly always putting the opposition in favorable field position for the Sun Devil defense and changing the momentum of games as ASU submitted its first winning season since 2007.
For his efforts, Hubner was named to the Lindy's Third Team All-American squad earlier in the week, while also being named as ASU's special team's MVP at the team's season ending awards banquet on Saturday night.
"It's pretty sweet," said a humble Hubner of the awards. "Anytime you get something like that it's always an honor. It's good to be recognized for performing at a high caliber level, so that's good."
This season was a breakout year for Hubner, who after transferring from Scottsdale Community College following the 2010 season, averaged 41.3 yards per punt as a junior for the Sun Devils. With a renewed focus on his mechanics and consistency, something he credits his head coach for, Hubner led the Pac-12 in punting in 2012, averaging 47.2 yards per punt, including a career long 73 yarded against UCLA, also the longest by a conference punter this season.
"I think a lot of that is just consistency," Hubner explained. "Coach Graham came in here and he just kind of preached working every day and doing what you know how to do to that produces the best type of results and finding out a way to replicate that. I credit a lot of my success this year to him. I just think him coming in here with a different mentality, not just towards me but everyone around the program, as far as just doing what you're coached to do and doing it consistently, that is definitely what happened."
Hubner's improvement and command extend beyond just his increase in distance though, as he showed incredible touch and control with his kicks, pinning 20 punts inside of opposing team's 20-yard line.
"It's just a different style of punt," Hubner commented. "You've got to get the ball high enough in the air to let the guys get down there. A lot of the time guys will just let them hit and they'll roll into the end zone. But you get guys like Deveron Carr and Alden Darby running down there and getting their heels on the two or three yard line looking for the ball. If you put it up there high enough, they'll catch or knock it back, so you just kind of have to go out there and can't kick it as hard as you can.
"It's a different style of kick with the nose down so the ball has a good chance of coming backwards. You've just got to go out there and, finesse, is the best word I used to describe the approach."
Entering the season, there were concerns about the efficiency of the punting game. With little doubt about the power Hubner possessed in his right leg, the focus was directed towards the team's long snapping woes, as freshman Easton Wahlstrom struggled mightily throughout the offseason.
However, as the season rolled around, Hubner and Wahlstrom found their stride. While the punter himself may receive most of the attention for how the play unfolds, the senior is acutely aware of just how important it is to have a capable unit out there to assist him with his duties.
"He really stepped it up," Hubner remarked. "It starts with snapping and the rest of the guys up front. A good punt is just a byproduct of good blocking and a good snap. Another big part of my success this year came from the guys who laid a block and from the good snaps. I had a couple here and there that weren't necessarily in an ideal position, but that's what being athletic is for; being able to go out there and make plays."
Hubner put on a full display of his natural abilities in the team's final regular season game of the year against Arizona, as the team rallied to reclaim the Territorial Cup against the Wildcats, 41-34. Hubner averaged 50 yards on his five punts that night in Tucson, keeping the Arizona offense at bay while the Sun Devils struggled to find their rhythm in the first half. The dramatic comeback win is one Hubner says he'll remember for a long time, and a fitting end to Sun Devil career.
"That feels really good," he said of the win. "That's something I think every Sun Devil takes pride in. You can go 0-11 and go into that game and beat them and it would be a successful, so that was big. I think Coach Graham and the former guys who played here and just about everyone that you talk to say that that's something they either remember for the rest of their life as a positive or a negative and regret it, so I'm glad I was able to go out with a win."
With the win, the Sun Devils were selected to play in this year's Kraft Fight Hunger in San Francisco on December 29th. Despite the opportunity, which Hubner insists he's grateful for, he can't help but wonder about some of the games the Sun Devils let slip away in 2012 and what could have been. Regardless though, he remains optimistic about the progress of the program and anticipates Graham and his staff to continue to elevate the program to newer heights.
"A lot of games this year, we just beat ourselves," Hubner said. "We could be going into the bowl game 12-0. We really beat ourselves a lot of the time this year. Going into the bowl game now, it presents another opportunity for us and you've got to take advantage of the opportunities when you're given the chance. I think it's going to be a good game and we're not going to take those guys for granted. You know damn well this staff is going to prepare us to win; that's what they came here to do. I think for next year too, they're set up big time for some success."
"(former player) Bo Moos wrote an article recently that says Arizona State is a sleeping giant and I think he hit it right on the head," Hubner added. "If you get the right amount of recruiting and coaching set up, I think next year they'll be able to correct some of the mistakes we made this year and play the way we did against some of the opponents we just rocked, if they can do that consistently, there's nobody in the country that can beat this team."
After the team's bowl game, Hubner faces a difficult decision and challenge in the very near future. With a lifetime dream of playing in the NFL within his grasp, he says he's prepared to focus solely on chasing his dream, even if it means taking time away from school.
"As soon as this bowl game is over, I'm going to put school off for a semester and focus on that opportunity," he said. "A lot of the people I've talked to about it say it's an opportunity that you're not always going to have. Being able to play professional football in the NFL is not an opportunity that everybody gets in their life. Instead of focusing on having a test in by midnight on Friday and worrying about football, I think I'm just going to pour my heart and soul into football because anytime I've done that with anything in my life I've been successful.
"I know right after that bowl game it's going to be a very, very quick couple of days and I'll have to make a swift decision. From there, I'll work to put myself in the best position to get drafted or get signed."