Bob Ward has before and after photos that illustrate his grandson’s progress as a punter.
The one from August 2011 shows Taylor Symmank’s soccer-style kicking influence. Though Symmank has just punted, his right foot extends across his body to a level beneath and beyond his left shoulder — a less-than-optimal follow-through and way out of alignment. A similar head-on photo from October 2012 shows perfect form, Symmank’s right leg perfectly vertical, his right foot reaching a level above his head.
“A picture is worth 10,000 words,” Ward wrote in an e-mail.
Ward became well-known as strength and conditioning coach of the Dallas Cowboys for the last 13 years of the Tom Landry era and the first year of Jimmy Johnson. He’s one of 52 inductees in the USA Strength and Conditioning Coaches Hall of Fame. More than just a strength coach, he’s also a sports scientist.
Now he’s 80 and remains fascinated by training athletes to achieve peak performance, especially instilling the mechanics required for a sport-specific task.
His grandson might be the latest success story. Taylor Symmank, a 6-foot-2, 185-pound sophomore from McKinney Boyd, won the Texas Tech punting job over the last several weeks. He then boomed six punts for a 48-yard average last week against TCU.
The debut effort’s more remarkable considering Symmank didn’t learn to punt until two summers ago, after he graduated high school. He’d been a second-team all-state soccer player and a kicker in football.
“It was a little discouraging to see he had a soccer style, a sidewinding style,” Ward said. “Then to see the correction he made (punting) — how you use the kick, how you use the power ... .”
Symmank said he’s taken tips from Ryan Erxleben, the Tech punter who he displaced, Dallas-based kicking consultant Chris Shaw and Ward.
“There’s definitely things I can work on,” Symmank said. “Hang time is one of them. (Tech special teams) coach (Trey) Haverty always says, ‘It’s a 45-yard punt — 4.5 hang time.’ So if I’m hitting it 50, I need to get a 5.0, which is doable, and I need to be able to do it every time.”
In explaining the change at punter this week, Tech coach Kliff Kingsbury said Symmank had been “stellar” since preseason practice and called him a “special talent.” Symmank had punts of 60, 56 and 50 yards in the TCU game.
Ward, whose many Cowboys pupils included quarterback-punter Danny White, saw the raw potential.
“I knew he had talent by the way he had kicked a soccer ball,” Ward said, “but he didn’t punt. He could do a field goal or extra point, but it was just a matter of introducing the style necessary for punting into his technique. And he’s come along.
“He’s going to get better and better. He punted, two years ago, 70 yards. I bet he’ll bang that thing out there 80 yards or more in the air.”
Though a Class 5A honorable mention all-state kicker his senior year, Symmank attracted little recruiting interest. Thus, he started out at Southern Arkansas, alma mater of former Tech coach Tommy Tuberville. After one season there, he transferred and spent last season as a redshirt at Tech.
“Coming out of high school, I really had nowhere,” he said. “Southern Arkansas was the only place right out of high school. That’s when I learned to punt over the summer with my grandfather. They offered me the opportunity to do all three (punt, kick and kick off). From there, I knew I wanted to transfer out, because it’s not where I wanted to be, and Tech was the only place that gave me the opportunity, so I’m thankful for that.”
Symmank said graduate assistant Kevin Oliver, who’s worked with special teams for both Tuberville and Kingsbury, was his main connection in transferring to Tech.
Ward says Symmank has abundant potential, in part because he should get bigger and stronger as he grows into a tall, lean frame.
The former Cowboys assistant, who promotes Hi Trainer performance equipment, still has the desire to see athletes develop the right mechanics. Once a punter and kicker himself, Ward bemoans that “the kicking game is very uncreative today” in pro sports.
When he was a strength and conditioning coach, Ward said, he favored training to task rather than simply pushing weight-room strength. He took a similar approach with his grandson.
He said he started coaching Symmank to kick on the run rugby style, using both his left foot and his right foot.
“When I trained Taylor, I trained him to do all the situational things that a punter is called to do,” Ward said. “I didn’t have enough time to do it. We started on it. If he fumbles the ball and has to go left, can he kick with his left foot? It might happen once in a blue moon, but what if it wins the game?”
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Who: Texas State at Texas Tech
When: 6 p.m. Saturday
Where: Jones AT&T Stadium
Records: Texas State 2-0, 0-0 in the Sun Belt Conference; Texas Tech 3-0, 1-0 in the Big 12 Conference.
Rankings: Texas State unranked; Texas Tech No. 25 in The Associated Press Top 25.
Last game: Texas State 28, Prairie View A&M 3; Texas Tech 20, TCU 10
Last meeting: Tech 58, Texas State 10 last year in San Marcos.