Punter Matt Darr 'a different deal' for J.J. Clark

A timeshare between the Tennessee track and football teams is nothing new.

The Vols have long had defensive backs who took off the pads to compete as sprinters.

Or wide receivers who were accomplished jumpers.

Or beefy linemen moonlighting with a shot put or discus.

But a punter? Well, Matt Darr certainly presented something a bit different for J.J. Clark and the Vols when he reported for duty during the indoor season.

“I’ve not had a punter,” the UT director of track and field said. “I think the punter is a little different scenario.

“But he’s still a football guy, and I think those guys came to Tennessee to be winners. I believe our football team wants to win, and we want to win. We’ve accomplished on the track side NCAA championships and SEC championships, and I believe that’s what these youngsters want to do. The punter is a little different deal, though.”

The pairing appears even more unlikely on the surface when the typically non-contact football position is coupled with Darr’s gig throwing the shot put for the track team, an event generally a domain for oversized, heavy-lifters. On the flip side, Darr doesn’t appear to exactly fit the mold as a punter, either, looking much more like the linebacker he also was in high school at 6-foot-2 and 215 pounds.

But the Vols freshman is far from a novelty act, regardless of the sport.

Before redshirting last fall behind senior Chad Cunningham, Darr was recruited as the top-ranked player at his position in the nation and likely will be taking over the role full-time this spring. And after finally deciding to give college track a try once the football season ended in December, Darr also has emerged as a possible threat to score for UT in the shot put in the SEC Indoor championships, which start today in Fayetteville, Ark.

“It is kind of an odd combination,” Darr said. “I always kind of dealt with that through high school, dealing with recruiting and excelling in track. But I just felt, I picked up track in seventh and eighth grade and the explosion I got through the lifting and the training through track I think is what really gave me an edge when I started kicking and punting.

“I just had so much more pop and power in the ball than a lot of guys, and I think a lot of it was because of the track training.”

The trick for Darr and other two-sport athletes like wide receiver Justin Hunter is finding a balance between the workouts for track and football, a juggling act that becomes more difficult once spring practice starts for the Vols in March.

Football clearly will be the top priority for Darr with the opportunity for playing time dangling in front of him, both as a punter and perhaps as a kickoff specialist depending on how he fares in competition with rising sophomore Michael Palardy. But when Darr is available, it turns out the track team has a use for punters after all.

“I didn’t want to do anything or make a decision before football season was over,” Darr said. “I knew I was redshirting, but I also wanted to just focus on football and get my mind right for what the season is going to be like when I’m actually playing. So I really had no intentions of doing track. I just felt that football training would conflict with the track conditioning and that they just wouldn’t complement each other. But it’s worked out really well so far.

“And I’ve always had the size. I wasn’t just a specialty kicker/punter in high school.”

Darr obviously hasn’t limited himself in college, either.

Austin Ward covers Tennessee football. He may be reached 865-342-6274. Follow him at http://twitter.com/Vols_Beat and http://blogs.knoxnews.com/ward

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Comments » 24

redskinvol1 writes:

Bringing special back!

CartesianFrog writes:

Mike Darr threw 63-9 3/4 in the shot (# 1 in California and winner of the Cal HS state meet and #12 in the nation overall).He also threw 194-11 in the HS discus which was #2 in Cal overall and #12 in the nation overall.He also played linebacker with 170 tackles in his last 2 years.These numbers don't lie and they are quite impressive.

RoadTrip writes:

Special athletes can do things in other sports that are unexpected. Hunter and Darr prove that point. Ut is a great place to prove it since they will let you cross over.

Down_The_Field writes:

in response to slaw_way:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

dang! put a cage on his helmet and let him play LB.

eVOLved writes:

If a punt returner gets a too far and Darr gets an angle, he could seriously lay someone out. GBO!

Down_The_Field writes:

in response to Down_The_Field:

dang! put a cage on his helmet and let him play LB.

ok, i still have this on my mind. there's guys who return punts and kickoffs while playing a majority of the game at WR, RB, or DB.

can this guy rip heads off at DE or LB for say 20-30 reps per game and then punt?

the general would have loved this guy.

pickinhick writes:

I say we don't punt next year and move him to linebacker.

dead_vol_foul (Inactive) writes:

This is a really good article.

I did not realize he had red-shirted..I was pretty happy for Cunningham that he had such a solid season.

Well, anyway, the kid has an aggressive attitude.

Cookeville-vol writes:

Turn this kid lose. Can't wait to see him make big hits on the punt returner. GO MATT!!

Bogus writes:

Heck, if he can put some distance on kickoffs, that's a bonafide extra coverage guy.

hueypilot writes:

Whadda you know. A kiffin recruit that might actually see the field ......playing for Tennessee, too. Amazing

Shiggidyhappens writes:

in response to hueypilot:

Whadda you know. A kiffin recruit that might actually see the field ......playing for Tennessee, too. Amazing

I don't think he was a Kiffin recruit. He was a USC commit who decided not to go there after Kiffin was hired. Shouldn't that make him loved by all?

Bigger_Al writes:

Remember when Leaverton tackled Peter Warrick with his helmet in the 1st BCS Championship Game?

VOLsince68 writes:

in response to Cookeville-vol:

Turn this kid lose. Can't wait to see him make big hits on the punt returner. GO MATT!!

I agree with you man, but I really hope he don't have too.........

GO VOLS!!!!!

VOLsince68 writes:

in response to Shiggidyhappens:

I don't think he was a Kiffin recruit. He was a USC commit who decided not to go there after Kiffin was hired. Shouldn't that make him loved by all?

You are correct!!

516milesfromUT writes:

in response to Down_The_Field:

dang! put a cage on his helmet and let him play LB.

Thats what i'm sayin!!!
G
B
O
!

Rich_Is_Re-born writes:

in response to Bigger_Al:

Remember when Leaverton tackled Peter Warrick with his helmet in the 1st BCS Championship Game?

Yes, that was nice.

mtowntim writes:

in response to Shiggidyhappens:

I don't think he was a Kiffin recruit. He was a USC commit who decided not to go there after Kiffin was hired. Shouldn't that make him loved by all?

Darr is a Dooley guy all the way. Matt thumbing his nose at Sniffen is enough to make me happy. His stats and abilities are icing on the cake.

Einstein writes:

We could use him at LB.

CartesianFrog writes:

in response to Volnupstate:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

I wish,,,but unfortunately just too much cough syrup...Matt,Matt,Matt

murrayvol writes:

in response to Shiggidyhappens:

I don't think he was a Kiffin recruit. He was a USC commit who decided not to go there after Kiffin was hired. Shouldn't that make him loved by all?

You're right and yes.

murrayvol writes:

in response to Bigger_Al:

Remember when Leaverton tackled Peter Warrick with his helmet in the 1st BCS Championship Game?

I do but it's getting fuzzy. Time for another one.

Tau_of_Tennessee writes:

in response to Bigger_Al:

Remember when Leaverton tackled Peter Warrick with his helmet in the 1st BCS Championship Game?

Good call Bigger Al. I do remember and I was there; great play! All the other Vols in my section were bummed at the long return but I was laughing and cheering an open field smack down by the punter, I loved it.

TitanandVolfan4life writes:

170 tackles as a LB in HS is no joke.

He's obviously a smart kid that keeps his head up, eyes open and loves to lay the smack down on the other teams players.

He's obviously a good asset on our track team too so CDD went and got a really good one with this guy.

You can bet that as soon as the ball leaves his foot on all punts that he'll be looking to take the returners head off if he breaks containment.

I almost feel sorry for a returner that Matt gets a solid shot at, LOL !

Good options for CDD too since he might get another great punter and move Matt to the D team if we need him.

You just have to love UT guys like this!

VFL...GO BIG ORANGE!!!

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