All Sam Koch wanted was a chance.
He didn’t have it at the NFL Scouting Combine, as he was not one of the 10 punters invited to participate in the 2006 event. So with the help of his agent, Koch relied on his Nebraska blue-collar work ethic, making his chance by networking with NFL scouts, getting his name out there and setting up workouts. Then in the 2006 NFL Draft, Koch was the first punter selected, with the Baltimore Ravens picking the former University of Nebraska walk-on in the sixth round.
He hasn’t stopped punting since.
On Oct. 18 at Philadelphia, Koch will play in his 230th game as a Raven, breaking the all-time franchise record held by Terrell Suggs. (Hall of Fame linebacker Ray Lewis played in 228.) Koch has never missed a game in 15 NFL seasons. In a franchise that routinely ranks among the best in the league in special teams play, Koch has been a constant thread in that success for a decade and a half.
“He’s the epitome of what a Raven is,” said cornerback Jimmy Smith, Koch’s teammate for the past 10 years. “No matter what position you play, it is very difficult to make it in the NFL. And to play as long as he has, at the level he has, for an organization like this, it just show you his dedication to his craft.”
When Koch played his first game for the Ravens on Sept. 10, 2006, current quarterback Lamar Jackson was 9 years old. At 38, Koch is older than his current special teams coach, Chris Horton, and the longest-tenured Raven by four years.
“Coming into the league … I wanted to come out here and prove my talents were worthwhile in this league and to take it game by game,” Koch said as he met with the media Oct. 15. “And now I look back, and it’s 15 years … two-hundred some games, and it’s like, ‘Man, that’s been quite a ride.’ But there’s so much more to prove, so much more that I can do.”
Head coach John Harbaugh, who cut his teeth as a special teams coach with the Eagles and remains highly involved in special teams workouts, said Koch has revolutionized the punting game.
“Sam is going to be remembered, in his craft, for changing the way punters punt,” Harbaugh said earlier this week. “He’s the guy who’s come up with all these different types of punts and these different kicks. … Directional punting, the way he sprays the ball around, puts it on the sideline and the different rotations he uses, these are all things that punters are copying now.”
Koch has made the Pro Bowl just once, in 2015, after a season in which he ranked second in the league with a net punt of 42.9 yards. (His overall average of 46.7 ranked ninth.) Part of Koch’s success has been his ability to angle punts to the sideline or otherwise elude dangerous returners. He ranks second in the league since 2006 with 412 punts inside the opposing 20-yard line.
In addition to his punting success, though, Koch has been at the center of the longstanding success in the Ravens’ kicking game, too. Former special teams coach Jerry Rosburg has called Koch “the best holder in the history of football.”
It’s an impossible job to quantify, and Koch echoed the mantra of holders everywhere when he said, “If you’re not being talked about, it’s usually a good thing.”
Rosburg’s point, though, was that the way Koch can handle any snap and get the ball caught and placed, with the laces aligned properly, has been a large part of the Ravens’ kicking game success throughout the years.
Koch served as Matt Stover’s holder for three seasons, and since 2012 he has been the holder for Justin Tucker, who has become the most accurate place-kicker in NFL history.
Oh, and Koch has his own accuracy record, too: He is 7-for-7 as a passer on fake punts, the highest completion percentage in NFL history for anyone with at least five career passes.
Koch, Tucker and long snapper Morgan Cox constitute “The Wolfpack,” a specialist unit whose continuity has been at the heart of their success. The group has worked together since 2012, with the exception of the 2014 season, when Cox missed half the year with a torn ACL.
Koch signed a two-year, $4.9 million contract extension earlier this year that reduced his 2020 cap hit, but it’s fair to wonder how much longer the 38-year-old will keep playing and whether that cap hit will ultimately become prohibitive. (According to overthecap.com, which tracks player contracts, Koch’s cap numbers will be $2.9 million next year and $3.1 million in 2022.)
For now, though, Koch says he has no plans to stop booming kicks.
“Matt Stover told me a long time ago, ‘Perception is key,'” Koch said. “So I kind of take that to heart, where every single rep that I have in practice, I know somebody’s watching, and more importantly, I know personally, I’m watching. And so if it’s not to my standards, I’m going to do everything I can to make it right and to get better from there.”
Koch said “The Wolfpack” holds one another accountable and that keeps them at the top of their craft.
“We take great pride in that … and I look forward to many years and many more punts.”
See Also: 10 Questions With Ravens Punter Sam Koch
Photo Credit: Kenya Allen/PressBox