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Original Issue

First Kicks

Rookie punters are all over the NFL map

The Falcons' Michael Koenen, out of Western Washington, stepped out against New England on Oct. 9, when he kicked a 58-yard field goal that was beyond placekicker Todd Peterson's range. Koenen (right) recalls: "Someone said, 'Warm up.' Next thing I knew, [coach] Jim [Mora] said, 'Get out there.'" Koenen's was the longest kick in the league this year. (In his regular gig he has a 37.4 punting net.) Koenen's not letting that big boot, nor his $230,000 salary, change the values he got growing up in Bellingham, Wash., where his father works in a Georgia-Pacific mill and his mother is a waitress. No big purchases, no fast cars, no bling. "Someday," says Koenen, "I'd like to build a house back home." ... Chris Kluwe has been a bright spot in Minnesota, near the top of the NFL in total (47.1 yards) and net (40.1) average, yet he doesn't feel secure. "There are no guarantees in the NFL," says the UCLA alum. "In college, you got your scholarship, so they're stuck with you for five years." ... The Chiefs' Dustin Colquitt says, "Every week someone outstanding [is] returning the ball. There isn't any time [to] take a breath," but at least he can talk shop with his kin. He's one of four family members who punted at Tennessee, including dad Craig, who won two Super Bowls with the Steelers, and little brother Britton, now a freshman.... When the Jets' Ben Graham, who turned 32 on Nov. 2, became the oldest rookie ever to play in an opening-day NFL game, he'd had 12 years of pro football experience: Australian rules football. Graham (right), who is married with two young daughters, has used kicks from Down Under--including the "torpedo" (spiral) and the "banana" (corkscrewing action)--to average 44.1 yards a punt and force returners to muff an NFL-high four kicks. A celebrity in Australia, he's enjoying his U.S. anonymity. "Here we wear helmets, so you're not easily recognized on the street," he says. "It's a nice change."