East Carolina will have a large vacancy to fill in its special teams in 2007 due to the departure of Ryan Dougherty. The Orlando-native has provided the Pirates with a tremendous weapon in the kicking game over the past four seasons and is finishing his career for the purple and gold in style.
The 6’1″, 232-pound Dougherty has been an integral part in the Pirates’ success this season. He has helped “expansion” East Carolina to its first bowl game since 2001.
You need not look back any further than the season finale’ at NC State to observe the positive impact Dougherty has on this team. Needing a win to ensure themselves of a bowl bid, the Pirates received a clutch performance from their senior punter against one of the nation’s best punt returners in NC State’s Darrell Blackman. Dougherty averaged 43.6 yards on seven attempts and allowed East Carolina to win the battle for field position by pinning the Wolfpack inside its own 20-yard line on six different occasions.
by the years, ECU has had some extremely skilled punters. Names such as John Jett, Matt Levine, Andrew Bayes and Jarad Preston come to mind.
Jett averaged 42.2 yards per punt in the Pirates’ 11-1 season in 1991; he remains the program’s most decorated punter with regards to success at East Carolina and professionally. He punted for several years in the NFL with the Dallas Cowboys and Detroit Lions.
In 1994, Matt Levine posted a 42.6 mark, which ranks as the eighth best single-season performance in Pirate history.
From 1996 to 1999, Andrew Bayes compiled the second-best career average in East Carolina history, as he averaged 43.5 yards per boot. This impressive mark included the Pirates’ top-single season performance when Bayes averaged 48.1 yards per attempt in 1999.
Two-year player Jarad Preston topped Bayes’ career mark, averaging 43.7 per punt during the 2001 and 2002 seasons, which makes him the Pirates’ all-time leader.
Let’s not forget Claude King, who wore the purple and gold in the 1950’s. King has the longest punt in ECU history (88 yards) and the second-best single season mark (45.7 in 1954).
Ryan Dougherty certainly has a place within that group and one could make a case that he is the best punter to ever don an East Carolina uniform. He was named first-team All-Conference USA in 2003 and 2006, while being chosen to the second-team as a sophomore in 2005. Dougherty, who is averaging 43.9 yards per attempt this season, was a semi-finalist (top 10) for the prestigious Ray Guy Award, which is presented yearly to the nation’s top punter.
This Pirate senior has not only gotten it done on the football field, but more importantly, in the classroom. Dougherty, who is majoring in physical education, was named to the ECU Athletic Director’s Honor Roll for four consecutive semesters during the 2004-2005 and 2005-2006 school years.
Prior to being recruited to East Carolina by former coach Steve Logan, Dougherty had only played two years of football. He began playing during his junior year at Orlando’s Boone High School and had success immediately. He handled all three kicking duties in each of his two seasons, but the multi-talented Dougherty didn’t stop there.
You see, Dougherty is not your stereotypical kicker, but rather an all-around athlete. As a senior, he also started at wide receiver while seeing occasional time at other locaiongs such as quarterback and running back. During his senior year, he was an all-state punter and an all-Central Florida selection at wide receiver. Additionally, Dougherty was an all-state performer in soccer while also lettering in track.
Logan was dismissed, but that didn’t keep Dougherty from exploding onto the scene as a freshman under new Pirate head coach John Thompson.
In 2003, he manufactured the third-best single season effort in ECU history when he averaged 44.5 yards per punt. This put him in the nation’s top ten and he was the only freshman to earn first-team all league honors that season.
There would be no sophomore slump, as Dougherty followed up his initial success by posting a 41.8 mark that resulted in him being named second-team CUSA.
Following the 2004 season, East Carolina made another coaching change when it replaced the fired John Thompson with Skip Holtz.
Holtz appears to have solidified the Pirates’ program and provided some continuity, but Dougherty has seen two coaches in as many seasons. However, he insists that he has drawn something from all of the coaches he has played under during his stay in Greenville.
“Each one had their strengths and with the right personnel all will be successful. I definitely received both ends of the spectrum with regards to their coaching styles. I experienced the yeller, in addition as the laid back, conservative, quiet coach. I won’t mention who was which, but I have liked everyone that I have had,” Dougherty said.
However, he did go on to say that while John Thompson and his staff had its strong points, East Carolina is much better off with the Holtz’ regime.
“Coach Holtz had been a head coach before and the demands of what he expects from his players are different. His staff is more experienced as a whole and is ready to take on the expectations of the Pirate Nation.”
Following two standout seasons at punter, Dougherty’s average dipped to 40.8 yards in 2005, but he did place more punts inside the 20-yard line. Some speculated that the small drop off in his average may have been due to the increased role Dougherty was trying to tackle for the first time in his college career, as he was handling the kickoff duties in addition to being the starting punter. However, he begged to differ and has proven that this season.
It is often said that confidence breeds success and vice versa. Dougherty’s confidence is largely attributable to the game experience that he attained in his first three seasons as a Pirate. It is this confidence and mental toughness that he credits for his improved performance in his senior campaign.
“I think I came into this year with more confidence than I have had since I’ve been here. Also, the experience also helps. I haven’t had the normal game day jitters like I’ve had in the past. I wouldn’t say that I have worked harder this year than in the past because I haven’t changed my work habits because I didn’t feel that I needed to. I think I was just stronger mentally than I have been in the past.”
Don’t underestimate the impact that Dougherty’s relentless work ethic has on his success, though. His exemplary practice habits and strong sense of self-discipline have allowed him to become a more complete player. There are some drills that are performed daily, while other parts of the practice routine are dictated by the opponent’s return games.
“My routine changes depending on what team we are playing, their strengths and weaknesses, their return men, and things of that character. Some typical punt drills are drops, no step punts and one steps. I also practice sky pooch punts, line drives and really all types of punts throughout the week so when game day arrives I am ready for any situation I am asked to confront. For example, the rugby punt at NC State and then switching back and forth from rugby to regular. One of my goals this year as a punter was to be versatile and to be able to do anything in any situation.”
A typical practice generally consists of 30 to 40 punts, which includes the warm-up, and 20 of these will be at complete strength. Kickoffs are only practiced one day a week and just ten reps are taken. This is clearly intended to limit the strain placed on the prized right leg of Dougherty.
In addition to the normal stretching routine that all the Pirate players do, Dougherty gets one of the strength coaches to put him by a complete back stretch.
As many coaches often press, special teams are a third of the game and are very often the deciding factor in close games. Ryan Dougherty has been the Pirates’ special teams’ player-of-the-year, and has given them the edge in several tight games this season.
A punt team’s execution is a very timely course of action where fractions of seconds are of the essence. It is basic that one places a premium on taking the right steps and using the correct fundamentals. The whole operation should never take more than 2.1 seconds. The break needs to be .80 seconds or better and the punter’s catch to kick phase needs to be right at 1.2 seconds.
Dougherty generally wants the hang time to be at the minimum four seconds, but would like to average around four and a half. However, the hang time, in addition as the direction and style of punt used, are dictated by variable factors such as: the wind, the opposing team’s return man (men), the ability of the kicking team to cover, and so on. for example, when there is a brisk wind, he wants to have a lower drop and a driving kick that will knife by the wind. A chief example of making the switch from a traditional punting style to the rugby technique was seen at NC State, as the Pirates wanted to allow their coverage team more time to get down the field.
Only participating in a handful of plays (generally no more than 15 or 20) that are spaced sporadically throughout the game, maintaining your focus and knowing the game situations is paramount. Dougherty appears to have mastered this skill.
Not only has he punted and kicked off beautifully, but he has also done a superb job of getting the snaps down on field goals and additional-points.
“I try my best to stay into the game and know the situations. I really try to make Coach Hudson my best friend,” said a laughing Dougherty. “I want to pin the other team back as far as I can. If I’m doing a sky punt, I’d rather hit a 20-yard punt and have them start at the 15-yard line than hit a 40-yarder that goes into the endzone and they get it on the 20. I just try to manager each situation the best way I can and do what I have to do to help the team.”
During the offseason, Dougherty spent some of time as a counselor at Gene Muriaty’s National Kicking Service camp.
“I have worked the Steelers’ place kicker Jeff Reed. I also work with Gene (Muriaty) between camp sessions on my stuff and stay in contact with him during the year.”
Dougherty, who would like to try his foot in the NFL in the future, stated that he does not have a favorite punter or place kicker, but that he has a few he likes to watch.
“I don’t really have a favorite, but there are guys that I just love to watch. Like Adam Vinatieri and what he has done in his career with the Super Bowls. As for punters, I like to watch Shane Lechler of the Oakland Raiders. I just think it is amazing what he does with the ball and his ball control. It shows, as he has made the pro bowl several times.”
Dougherty, who only has one game remaining in an East Carolina uniform, took some time to mirror back on what has been a magnificent career.
He had a difficult time pinpointing a favorite moment or game, saying there had been so many great memories; however, if he had to choose, he would pick this year’s win over instate competitor NC State due to it locking up the Pirates’ bowl bid.
“This is a tough question because there are so many great memories–from scoring two touchdowns to hitting some big punts and kickoffs to spending time with all the guys after some huge wins–but, I must say my greatest moment is this season and getting a bowl bid by beating instate competitor NC State. It was such a great college air and you couldn’t ask for a better place to play with the fans and the way everyone stepped up. I have never been more proud to be a PIRATE!”
Individually, he feels that this season’s win over UVA was probably his best performance. In that game, Dougherty averaged over 55 yards per punt on three attempts, kicked off well and also ran for a touchdown on a fake field goal that sealed the win. He said that if he had to pick another, it would be the nationally televised game at Miami his freshman year. Dougherty held one of the nation’s best punt returners in check, while averaging 49.3 yards on four punts.
When asked what he will miss most about East Carolina, Dougherty was quick to reply.
“I definitely will miss the gamedays, but I will also miss just hanging out with the guys and being a part of the team.”
A “special” unity exists among the kickers, punters, holders and thorough snappers. They go out for dinner every Thursday and enjoy spending time together away from the football setting.
“We vote that day at practice on where to eat and go hang out. We always have a great time.”
While Dougherty only has one more game as a Pirate player, he will be a Pirate forever.
“There is nothing that will ever take the place of being a PIRATE. I will be a PIRATE forever and I will never forget the memories I have made here and the people I have met.”