COLUMBUS — Blake Haudan joined the Minnesota football team as a walk-on in August, 2005. He made his first punt for the Gophers on Sept. 19, 2009.
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If you are keeping score at home, that’s 49 months. That’s 196 weeks of either practice or lifting weights or running and conditioning — without the opportunity to play.
But perseverance proved to be his strong suit.
It was more than 1,600 days between competitive punts for Haudan, a St. John’s Jesuit grad. Until Minnesota coach Tim Brewster told him that he had the job for the California game a little more than a month ago, Haudan’s last punt in a game had been in the Titans’ final outing of the 2004 season.
He kept the faith and got his moment in the 11th hour.
“I always felt like sitting around and being negative would never get you anywhere,” Haudan said as he went through preparations this week for today’s game against No. 18 Ohio State. “If you’re just feeling sorry for yourself, that’s a guarantee you will fail. I just thought it made more sense to keep on working.”
Haudan was redshirted for the 2005 season at Minnesota. He was a member of the team and a scholar athlete award winner in each of the next three seasons, but did not see action in any games.
This year, his fifth and final season in Minneapolis, Haudan was listed as the starter as the Gophers went though fall camp.
But when the season arrived, the job went to Dan Orseske, a highly-regarded freshman who had been first team all-state in Illinois and ranked among the top 25 punters in the country. Haudan was relegated to working as the holder on field goals and extra points, and his resolve was tested again.
“I understood all along that there was competition for the job, and when I didn’t get it at the start of the season, initially I was really disappointed,” Haudan said. “But I quickly got over it, and never stopped trying to get better, and be ready if an opportunity came up.”
After Orseske became ill in the days leading up to the Cal game, Brewster turned to Haudan, and in the five games since getting the job, Haudan has punted 25 times, with results that have made Brewster more than comfortable with keeping him in the job.
Ten of Haudan’s punts had sufficient hang time to force fair catches, and 10 more have been placed inside the 20-yard line. Against Penn State last weekend, Haudan punted six times and averaged 50 yards per kick.
“Our special teams were outstanding again at Penn State. Blake Haudan averaging over 50 yards a punt was a really solid performance,” Brewster said. “We’re continuing to get good work from Blake Haudan. He is doing really well.
“I couldn’t be more pleased with him.”
Haudan was a first-team all-state and all-district punter for St. John’s in the 2004 season and was all-City League both at punter and wide receiver — that coming after a junior season that abruptly was ended by a serious knee injury.
Haudan averaged 43.7 yards per punt as a senior at St. John’s and hit 29 extra points and four field goals in addition to three touchdown receptions.
At Minnesota, Haudan has never been on scholarship, paying his own way and earning a degree in business and marketing. The Gophers now have a graduate student as their starting punter.
The calendar tells Haudan there are just five or six games left in his career, including the battle with the Buckeyes that will bring two or three dozen friends and family members to Ohio Stadium. Each time it’s fourth down for the Golden Gophers, Haudan remembers the investment he has made in that moment.
“I think when you work that long and that hard for something, it definitely means more to you,” he said.
“Now I look at every punt as something that is so precious. I can’t do anything else but make the most of this.”