POSTED: 01:30 a.m. HST, Aug 23, 2013
LAST UPDATED: 07:53 p.m. HST, Aug 28, 2013
FOURTH IN EIGHT-PART SERIES
What were the chances Ruben "Ru-Ru" Guzman Jr. would be a scholarship punter for an FBS team?
Guzman is a statistical improbability. He is optimistically listed at 5 feet 9, in a position where the desired requirement is 6 feet or taller.
He punts with his left foot. Left-handers account for 10 percent of this country's population, even fewer in the punting community. There are two left-footed punters on current NFL rosters, and none other than Guzman on Mountain West Conference teams.
But Guzman, a second-generation Mexican American, is atop the Hawaii depth chart, proof that sometimes the odds can be evened.
"He's done a terrific job," head coach Norm Chow said. "He's a serious-minded guy."
Guzman's drive is in his DNA. His paternal grandparents immigrated to California from Mexico in the 1960s. They awakened before dawn to work in Fresno's vineyards, then in the evening, they studied English and U.S. history. In 1986, they became naturalized U.S. citizens. His parents started a welding/construction business when they were in their 20s.
"I'm the guy who gets up at 4:30 every morning and doesn't come home until 6:30 every evening," said Ruben Guzman, whose business has grown steadily and now employs 23 workers. One of them is not "Ru-Ru."
"I took him to work a couple of times," the elder Guzman said, "and I told him, ‘If you don't study, you might be getting up at 4:30 every morning and driving a truck. That's why I want you to hit the books and study and get a degree.'"
The younger Guzman had passion for football, but not the height. It was then he decided to become a punter. Entering his senior year at A.B. Miller High in Fontana, Calif., Guzman wrote a to-do list of steps needed to earn a Division I scholarship.
In both baseball and boxing, sluggers rely on long, powerful swings. Extending that theory, the assumption is tall punters can generate power from long backswings. With tutoring from kicking specialist Chris Sailer, Guzman worked on flexibility and strength to maximize the impact when he strikes a football. In short, he wanted to turn his jab into a knockout punch.
"My strength is the quickness in my legs," he said. "I have short tendons in my muscles, which gives me a quicker release."
He said he tries to stretch 30 minutes each session. He also has taken yoga classes.
"Flexibility plays a huge role," Guzman said. "The more follow-through you have, the more the ball will go up distance-wise."
While practicing at Ralph M. Lewis Park, the Guzmans noticed a group using kicking motions while an elastic cord was attached from each person's waist to the ankles. The elder Guzman approached one of the kickers, and learned the bungee-like cord helped in resistance training, an advancement of ankle weights. The elder Guzman bought the equipment, for $65, on the spot.
"That helped my son so much with his speed," he said.
Chris Demarest, who coaches UH's special teams, said he focused mostly on what Guzman did with his punts rather than from which foot they were launched. UH made an offer, which Guzman accepted just before Wyoming's scholarship offer was delivered.
"I like him because he's consistent," Demarest said. "He takes his job seriously. He wants to be the best."
Demarest added: "And, yes, he's a lefty, which is unique, and very nice to have."
Guzman said he is grateful for the scholarship and the opportunity to earn a degree.
"I never thought (punting) would take me this far," Guzman said. "I have a lot of people who believed in me. I don't punt for myself. I punt for the people who believed in me, and for my teammates, and for the coaches."