With Gheorghe Muresan as inspiration, Zoltan Mesko becomes one of the best in the NFL
|12.15.11 at 11:15 am ET|
FOXBORO — When Zoltan Mesko pinned the Redskins inside the 5 on his first punt of the afternoon Sunday, it resulted in arguably the biggest touchdown of the game.
Andre Carter sacked Rex Grossman in the end zone, forcing the ball loose, and allowing Vince Wilfork to pounce on it for an early 7-0 lead. Both teams would score three offensive touchdowns and kick a pair of field goals but it was the defensive TD that was the difference.
Mesko has quietly been having an outstanding season.
In just his second year out of Michigan, he is sixth in NFL in net yards punting at 40.6, pinned the opponent inside the 20-yard line 16 times and is allowing just 8.6 yards per return, a testament to his hangtime on his punts.
“It comes down to performing practice first,” Mesko said. “If you’re going to do it in practice, it will carry over to games. I’ve done not many things different. I’ve tweaked my technique here and there a little bit, and everyone does that with any type of technique they’re involved in, whether it’s golf or football or anything. It’s just the continuous search for improvement.”
Mesko was quick to credit the work of Matthew Slater and Sergio Brown for getting down the field quickly and down the punt that was one of the key early moments in the 34-27 win.
“To me, I realize that I am making a difference and the field position battle is huge any Sunday,” Mesko said. “It’s good to have teammates like Sergio Brown and Matthew Slater that can get down there and make the play for me. The guys do a great job of blocking and Danny [Danny Aiken] does a great job of snapping – couldn’t ask for more.
“The only thing I can do is get more repetitions. Through preparation comes confidence. So, it’s a mixture of both that pays off on Sunday.”
“He’s built on his rookie year and he’s done a real good job for us,” Bill Belichick said on Wednesday. “His holding has been very good – not that it was ever not good, but it’s gotten better. He’s really worked hard on that. Again, punting is so situational. You don’t just sit out there and bang it away; you’ve got rushes you have to do deal with, you have field position, wind conditions, things like that. His situational punting has really improved.
“There are still some things that he can do better, but I think he’s taken a solid jump from his rookie year in terms of his overall mechanics and also his situational awareness and being able to execute different types of kicks in different situations. Again, the holding is also part of it too. You don’t want to overlook that. He’s a big part of the field goal operation.”
So where has all the inspiration come from for Mesko?
Turns out he had a chance meeting this past weekend in Washington with his childhood hero – and former NBA legend – Gheorghe Muresan, the 7-foot-7 beast of a center from Romania who starred for the Washington Bullets. Mesko, who stands 6-foot-4 himself, felt like a kid again next to “Ghorgeous Gheorge.”
“I did feel short on that occasion,” said Mesko, who was also there with 5-foot-8 Danny Woodhead. “I’m glad I got Danny in there. Should’ve done a Sprint commercial.
“Just a connection through a couple of Romanian journalists that made the connection. They’ve been friends for a long time. I wanted to meet my childhood hero. It was awesome. It was like talking to a movie star – which he was in “My Giant”. I admitted to him that I’ve seen “My Giant” about 20 times and I still own it on VHS. He gave me a high-5 for it.”
What about this week in the mile-high air of Denver? Is Mesko looking forward to kicking the ball out of the stadium like he did for a kicking camp promotion last year?
“I haven’t kicked in Denver but I’ve been to Denver,” Mesko said. “I’ve gone skiing a little bit so I know what the air is like. But you get a sense for that watching film, how guys compare in kicking the ball but until I get there and try it out in warmups myself, that’s when the adjustments happens.”
As for another sports legend, he’ll be trying to lengthen the field for Tim Tebow, making it hard for Broncos to excel in “Tebow Time.”
“I think it’s cool for the league,” Mesko said. “He’s done a lot of the league this year, and ignoring the noise.”