The first time Blake Johnson of Los Alamitos punted a football in a varsity game his sophomore season, the ball traveled 73 yards. That was quite a first impression he made for a school that produced former NFL punter Chris Kluwe.
"I remember Coach [John] Barnes giving the look, 'You got this.' I remember grabbing the ball and kicking it as hard as I could," Johnson said.
Johnson, a 6-foot-1, 190-pound senior, has become one of the most highly regarded high school punters in the nation. It's where his future rests even though he's also an all-league linebacker and will also play quarterback this season.
"He's a phenomenal high school kid," Barnes said. "He's a heck of a football player. He's not your typical kicker that wants to sit on the sideline. He plays like his hair is on fire."
Johnson averaged 36.3 yards a punt last season, with 15 punts landing inside the 20-yard line. His hang time is well over four seconds, and bringing binoculars to games to keep track of the ball floating high above is a good idea.
"The hardest part of punting is the ball drop," Johnson said. "If your ball is not right where it needs to be, you're not going to get a good ball. If you can master your drop, you're set."
So he spends lots of time at practice just going over details of his drop.
He started punting in eighth grade but it didn't become serious until he briefly attended Servite High and got some tips from standout kicker Connor Loftus, now at Pennsylvania. Eventually he started taking lessons from former UCLA punter Aaron Perez and former UCLA kicker Chris Sailer.
"He's an athlete, which is good," Perez said. "The position is evolving. They're asking punters to do more. He's super strong. He's very agile and has a lot of pop on his leg. He likes to get better. He likes to grind. Technique makes him the best. It's how much he wants to work on the little things and perfecting on being efficient."
Johnson has a mentality that's different.
"Most kickers are there to make friends, have fun," he said. "I'm there to compete."
Adding quarterback duties to his responsibilities this season could put more pressure on him as a punter, but he plans to do whatever is needed to help his team succeed.
He was busy during the summer traveling to special teams camps at several colleges and ended up committing to Arkansas.
He's cool under pressure, something important when things don't go as planned in punting. In other words, a bad snap or someone breaking through the line could force Johnson to improvise.
But with his ability to pass, run or even tackle someone, he's going to be a threat that teams can't take for granted.