UC football: Nuredini's leg critical to winning ways
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- There is a level of confidence that Puma Nuredini brings when he's asked to kick a field goal or improve field position with a punt for the University of Charleston.
The native of Albania, former resident of Greece and 2009 graduate of Naples (Fla.) High School has developed into an extra weapon for the hottest team in the West Virginia Conference.
That's not easy in NCAA Division II, where special teams often suffer because schools need to make the most of their scholarships.
In Nuredini's case, the unbeaten Golden Eagles (3-0) are thriving.
He is 5-for-6 on field goals with his only miss being a 32-yarder that was blocked. His long is a school record 49-yarder against St. Joseph's (Ind.). He had three against Shaw in the season opener, including a 43-yarder on his first kick of the season.
"It gives you a lot of confidence," said Nuredini, whose Golden Eagles will seek their eighth consecutive victory at 1 p.m. Saturday against perennial conference power Shepherd (2-1) at University of Charleston Stadium. "Make or miss, I still try to put a good kick or a bad kick behind me and move on from there and learn from my mistakes."
The junior, who moved to the United States in 2005, kicks off and punts as well, improving in every aspect since arriving at UC as a freshman in 2010.
That season he backed up Wes Sherrill, but was asked to only kick off, which he did 20 times. Of Sherrill's 37 kickoffs, none were touchbacks, while Nuredini had four touchbacks in his 20 kickoffs.
Last year was the first season he was responsible for all three duties, but made only six field goals. Although his 44-yarder against Glenville State was a school record at the time, he lacked consistency.
He averaged 39.2 yards per punt with eight going 50 yards or farther, 17 inside the 20 and nine fair catches. His kickoffs traveled an averaged of 55.3 yards and included just three touchdowns.
In three games in 2012, the 5-foot-10, 155-pounder averages 61.3 yards per kickoff with four touchbacks. On punts, he has 15 for an average of 41.7 yards, four traveling 50 yards or farther, seven inside the 20 and three fair catches - all of which are ahead of last year's pace.
"Last year we had a first-year coach and we were just getting adjusted to him," Nuredini said. "This year everybody stayed for the summertime and worked harder to get reps with the team.
"I worked with the snappers all summer long and worked on my kickoffs a lot."
Nuredini is given a lot of freedom in his job. He punts rugby style, but doesn't have a set number of steps to take before kicking or an angle that is required.
He keeps his head up, because once he carries the ball outside the tackle box, roughing the kicker penalties are negated as he becomes a ball-carrier, and not a punter.
"I have to be aware of what's going on," he said. "I also have the option of taking off (fake punt) every time. I try to take my time. It gives our gunners more time to get down field. I either get it off right away or it depends on the rush.
"I feel like there is less pressure on me and makes me more responsible for the kicks."
There is no denying the value of field position in all levels of football. Nuredini was reminded of that when he realized that UC won the battle of field position in its four wins to end last season.
"Coach (George) Shehl says punts are one of the most important plays in football," Nuredini said. "Twenty-seven percent of teams, I think, who have a punt blocked lose the game. We play field position a lot."
Nuredini leads the conference in net punting average (40.0), UC is third in kickoff coverage and he has kicked the most field goals of any WVC kicker - all statistics that have contributed to the Golden Eagles' start to the season.
He wants it to continue and is aware of the importance of his position ... or positions.
"I just try to do my job, do what the coaches tell me," Nuredini said. "I don't get sad or happy, I just try to stay the same."
Contact Assistant Sports Editor Rich Stevens at email@example.com or 304-348-4837.