Alive and Kicking : Mojsiejenko Battles Back After Raiders Block Punt and Leave Their Mark
Linden King makes a good impression.
The former Charger linebacker, now a member of the Los Angeles Raiders, left his imprint on the chest of San Diego punter Ralf Mojsiejenko last Thursday.
A week later, there are still two angry red cleat marks just below Mojsiejenko’s sternum.
But, at least the headaches--the by-product of a concussion from the preceding Sunday--have just about gone away.
Who says kickers are wimps who never get hit?
Mojsiejenko’s psyche is just about recovered from the shock of having consecutive punts blocked in games against the Dallas Cowboys and Raiders. His body is still playing catch-up, as evidenced by the raw wounds above his abdomen.
Until Michael Downs of the Cowboys and Lester Hayes of the Raiders struck down his kicks, Mojsiejenko had not suffered the indignity of a blocked punt in his two seasons with the Chargers.
He was dumb-founded that two straight kicks were blocked, but that’s how it happened.
Downs knocked him out of the game with a concussion late in the Dallas game. Four days later, still feeling light-headed, he was attacked early in the game by the Raiders’ punt block team. Hayes hit the ball and King hit Mojsiejenko.
“I never saw anybody; I never had a clue what was happening,” Mojsiejenko said after a practice this week. “I’m just thankful I didn’t get hurt worse. I was seeing blurry after getting hit by the Raiders, and it didn’t help to get stepped on.”
Mojsiejenko said he had no fear when he went back on the field later against the Raiders.
“I was confident our guys would do the job blocking,” he said. “The only thing you can do is concentrate on kicking the ball. If you look up or if you worry about getting hit, you’re bound to shank it. I guess if you let yourself think, you’d have to be scared, but I didn’t let myself (think.)”
Mojsiejenko seemed to take perverse pride in displaying his chest wounds--his red badge of courage.
“People think we kickers have it so easy,” he said, letting his mesh jersey drop back over his belly. “No way. With the practice time and the mental preparation, it’s tough on us, too.
“In college, some players had a grudge against me for getting more publicity and not getting hit. Hey, I can’t help it if I’m not a good lineman or something. I’m just trying to do my job as well as I can. . . . I hope I got some respect for coming back from my injury and playing last week against the Raiders.”
After Hayes and King dumped him, Mojsiejenko had a moment of doubt. Once he regained his senses, that is.
“I was wondering, ‘Why me?’ ” he said. “I was all excited about playing on national TV. I was concentrating on getting my kick off faster to discourage the rush. Heck, I didn’t even take the time to spin the laces. And I still got smashed.”
Mojsiejenko later learned he had needed only 1.95 seconds to hit the ball, compared to a normal time of 2.25 seconds. But a missed block by Donald Brown allowed the kick to be blocked--and the kicker to be clobbered.
“They gave me lots of aspirin and smelling salts,” Mojsiejenko said. “I wanted to go in for the next punt, but the trainers recognized I wasn’t in condition for it. I was feeling dizzy and spacey, like a waking dream.”
He was allowed to punt again in the second half, and was relieved that his streak of consecutive blocked kicks ended at two.
Mojsiejenko has punted 55 times this season for an average of 41.9 yards. His longest kick was 62 yards. Eleven of his kicks died inside the 20.
“The statistics don’t show me being improved over last year, but I have set higher standards,” he said. “My ultimate goal is to make the Pro Bowl.”
Another goal is to follow the Raiders’ Ray Guy as the standard of comparison for punters.
“In his prime, Ray was the best ever,” Mojsiejenko said. “Of course, I’d like to be considered that good. I was looking up to him when I was still in grade school.”
Mojsiejenko takes exception to the notion that kickers are born with the ability to punt a football 60 yards.
“Punting was not something that was given to me,” he said. “I worked four hours a day on my kicking from the time I was a sophomore in high school. I know that I have the God-given tools to get better, but it bothers me that people think this is such an easy job, standing around in practice and watching.”
Mojsiejenko, who was a fourth-round draft pick in 1985 from Michigan State, said he has had to force himself to just stand and watch sometimes.
“Last year as a rookie, I was kicking too much in practice,” he said. “By the middle of the year, I was worn out and burned out from punting too much. I learned I have to take it easy later in the week so my leg will be fresh for Sunday.”
One of his projects this year was to improve his ability at what the Chargers call “pooch” punting--getting the ball to bite inside the 20. After practice one day this week, he worked with special teams coach Hank Bauer, trying to get the ball to stop near the goal line.
From a distance of about 50 yards, his objective was to put two out of three balls inside the 10. Even in an empty stadium, with no one rushing and trying to cream him, it wasn’t easy.
“It’s tougher for the guys with a stronger leg,” he said. “It’s like a golfer who has to drop a couple of clubs when he’s used to pounding the ball. What I try to do is drop it with the nose up, so it goes up and doesn’t turn over. You want it to come straight down and either stick or kick sideways.”
One of his kicks, descending from a height that matched the top level of seats, dived into the turf nose-first and barely moved.
“There it is, there it is,” Bauer screamed in delight. “That’s the way to bite.”
For Ralf Mojsiejenko, it was a satisfying way to conclude his work day. At least, there were no fresh cleat marks on his anatomy.