A Student of Kicking Passes a Test and Lands in the N.F.L.
By ZACHARY BRAZILLER
Published: May 1, 2008
Like a lot of football kickers, Benjamin Dato’s journey to the sport began on a soccer field.
Entering his sophomore year of high school in tiny Wyomissing, Pa., he caught the eye of a football coach with his ability to kick the soccer ball almost the length of the field.
“We’ve had a lot of all-county kickers,” Wyomissing Coach Ben Wolfrum said by telephone this week. “And Ben’s leg stood out above all the others.”
Dato eventually gave up soccer to concentrate on place-kicking and punting — a decision that has been paying off ever since.
As a punter for Fordham University in the Bronx, he went on to become one of the best at the position in the N.C.A.A.’s Football Championship Subdivision. And last Sunday, the Baltimore Ravens signed him to a free-agent contract, giving him an opportunity to become the 64th professional football player from Fordham.
“It’s surreal,” Dato said in an interview Monday at the McGinley Center on campus. “In the back of my mind, it’s like it’s not really happening.”
Dato was a sweeper on the soccer team at Wyomissing High School, where he also ran track. One summer, Todd Zechman, the football team’s kicking coach, was so taken with Dato’s ability, he asked him to stop by practice. Dato was initially expected to be a backup, but the starter quit.
By his senior season, he had become an integral part of the team. That year, Dato belted 95 percent of his kickoffs for touchbacks, including one through the uprights, Wolfrum said. He also kicked a 54-yard field goal in a playoff victory. He earned first-team all-Pennsylvania Class AA honors and a scholarship to attend Fordham.
While waiting his turn as an underclassman at Fordham, Dato said he would often set goals in practice that he had to achieve before leaving the field. One day, he decided to punt seven consecutive balls in one 10-yard area. Another time, it was 10 consecutive punts with a certain hang time. At some workouts, he remained on the field for up to four hours.
“Sometimes, I wouldn’t be able to walk the next day,” Dato said.
The hard work paid off. Last season, 26 of his 67 punts were downed inside the opponent’s 20. He averaged 44.7 yards a punt and set a season record at Fordham with 2,992 punting yards. The Associated Press named him a second-team all-American in the Football Championship Subdivision. In the classroom, he has 2.7 grade-point average and is on pace to graduate this spring with a degree in business management.
rest of article: http://www.nytimes.com/2008/05/01/sport ... f=football