The Colquitts: a punting dynasty out of Tennessee
Denver’s Britton Colquitt is among four prominent punters in his family and one of two playing in the NFL.
The New York Times
Call Britton Colquitt a scion of the First Family of Fourth Down.
On Sunday, Colquitt, 28, will punt for Denver in the Super Bowl. His brother, Dustin, 31, punts for Kansas City. Their father, Craig, 59, won two Super Bowl rings while punting for Pittsburgh in the late 1970s. And a cousin, Jimmy Colquitt, is the leading career punter at the University of Tennessee, the family alma mater, which also produced a quarterback named Peyton Manning.
Asked whether the Colquitts were the Mannings of punting, Britton joked that first, second and third downs were of lesser relevance. “Fourth down, that’s the important down,” he said.
The Broncos have needed only one punt this postseason, and the winds at MetLife Stadium can be treacherous, but Colquitt does not seem the sort to become uptight in anticipation. Two weeks ago, after Denver defeated the New England Patriots to reach the Super Bowl, he lay on the ground at Sports Authority Field and made confetti angels with his pregnant wife, Nikki.
“I told Britton there will be a moment when all this sinks in,” Craig Colquitt said from Nashville, where he is a sales representative for a janitorial company. “When that moment comes, that this is the Super Bowl, just remember that field is the same size as a high-school field.”
The family-punting dynasty arose more by accident than by master plan. Britton (39.42 yards) and Dustin (39.27 yards) own two of the NFL’s top career net punting averages over the past four-plus decades, but they focused on soccer until they reached high school, their parents convinced that it was a safer sport than football.
Craig thought his playing career had ended after high-school graduation in 1972 in Knoxville, Tenn. He worked several jobs in the next two years, he said, and was an undistinguished employee at Miller’s department store when his manager read a newspaper article: Tennessee was holding tryouts for walk-on punters.
“He said, ‘You have no future here; you need to try that,’ ” Craig Colquitt said. “My parents were tremendously grateful I was headed to school.”
When the 1975 season opened, he was the Volunteers’ starting punter. But he mishandled the snap on his first attempt and fell on the ball as he was being tackled in the end zone for a safety against Maryland.
“I got stage fright, terrible,” he said.
He feared returning to the sideline, but a remarkable thing happened. “Great job,” said Tennessee’s renowned kicking coach, George Cafego, who had been the first overall pick in the 1940 NFL draft. Colquitt had minimized the damage, surrendering two points instead of seven. The Volunteers eventually won, 26-8.
“That was a dramatic turn for me as far as being dedicated,” Craig said.
He was one of the first punters to take two steps instead of three before kicking the ball, an adjustment that reduced the chances of a block. In 1978, Colquitt became a third-round draft pick of the Pittsburgh Steelers. He punted in Super Bowl victories that season over Dallas, 35-31, and the next over the Los Angeles Rams, 31-19.
Not that his sons were overly impressed as boys.
When Dustin was 7 and Britton was 4, Craig said, he told them that they would inherit his Super Bowl rings when he died.
Their reaction: “Can we watch cartoons?”
A half-hour later, Craig said, he felt a tug on his shirt. It was Britton, who asked, “Hey, Dad, when are you going to die?”
Britton’s interest in football was sparked.
In the yard, the brothers played games with their father using soccer balls and footballs, learning to pass by kicking spirals instead of throwing them. When Craig Colquitt held kicking camps, Britton went along as a teacher, while Dustin remained largely uninterested.
“Once Dustin started driving and discovered girls, I never saw him at camp,” Craig said. “I understood.”
Both brothers played soccer at Bearden High School in Knoxville, then a state and national power. Dustin did not play football until his senior year.
He might never have taken up the sport if Bearden’s kicker had not broken his ankle two weeks before football season.
There was one problem. Dustin punted left-footed but did everything else right-handed, including dropping the ball to kick it, which made his technique awkward. So his father made him brush his teeth and juggle golf balls with his left hand in a crash-course effort to improve his punting style.
“My gums were bleeding, I was brushing so much with my left hand,” Dustin said.
He said he felt uncomfortable at first in tight football pants and even inserted his pads incorrectly, leading one teammate to say: “Your dad won two Super Bowls, and you can’t even put your pads on right.”
Dustin’s discomfort ended, according to Britton, who was then a freshman at Bearden, when a girl yelled from the stands, “Nice butt, Colquitt.”
“He was like, ‘All right, I can do this,’ ” Britton said.
Dustin said he had an offer to play soccer at Brown, which also agreed to let him kick during football games. But the Ivy League does not give athletic scholarships, and even with financial aid, the cost was prohibitive, Craig said. Dustin said his father wanted him to continue the family-punting tradition at Tennessee.
If he had gone elsewhere, Dustin said in a telephone interview, his father had admonished, “You’re not welcome home for Christmas.”
After becoming an all-American at Tennessee, Dustin, like his father, was a third-round draft pick, selected by Kansas City in 2005. Britton followed his father and brother as a punter for the Volunteers, but he had a stretch of well-publicized incidents involving alcohol that threatened his career.
In 2008, after being arrested on charges of driving under the influence and leaving the scene of an accident, Britton was suspended for five games of his senior season and stripped of his scholarship. No NFL team drafted him in 2009.
Denver signed Britton as a free agent and put him on the active roster in late December 2009. In 2012, he ranked third in the NFL with a net average of 42.1 yards and second with a return average of 6.2 yards.
Last August, he signed a contract extension that averaged $3.9 million a year and made him the league’s highest-paid punter, just ahead of Dustin at $3.75 million.
Their father, by contrast, never made more than $85,000 a season with the Steelers.
“It’s a lot better, and he’s the first to tell you that,” Britton said. “He’s thrilled to know he doesn’t have to support his son anymore. Maybe I’ll be supporting him one day.”
While this is the third Super Bowl for a Colquitt, it may not be the last. Britton has a young son, and Dustin has three.
“He’s left-footed,” Britton said of his son, Nash, who will be 2 in April. “I’m just going to have to send him to my brother. I won’t even have to teach him.”