If Anyone Can Break Into NFL, It's UTEP's Ed Bunn

He could be the toughest college football player in the country. He is 25 years old. He left his home in Virginia when he was 16, mainly because his father kicked him out of the house. He has been stabbed, clubbed with a baseball bat, shot at and chased through the streets and alleys of South Central L.A., and now, living in Texas, thinks of himself as "a recluse and a hermit."

Yes, Ed Bunn is one tough football player. And don't think NFL scouts haven't been keeping tabs on him.

Everybody can use a good punter.

That's right, Ed Bunn punts. Man, does Ed Bunn punt. A senior at the University of Texas El Paso, he is the No. 2 collegiate punter in the nation, averaging 48.3 yards per kick. A couple of weeks ago, his average was as high as 52.1. His longest punt this season is 73 yards. As a junior, against New Mexico, he sent one 83 yards.

Maybe he kicks the ball out of anger. Maybe he vents his frustration that way. It certainly isn't the pressure of college football that drives Ed Bunn, who says, "Pressure is when a guy puts a 12-gauge shotgun against your head and tells you to get out of the car or he'll blow your brains out."

A hard guy?

A head case?

Not at all. Ed Bunn, in fact, comes across as remarkably well adjusted after a childhood best described as rather wild. At UTEP, his major is in English literature. His goal is to become a lawyer. This is the future he foresees in case no NFL team ends up offering him a job.

He isn't worried. As jobs go, playing football would be a piece of cake compared to his job in California. It is a job that has occupied Bunn the last couple of summers whenever he wasn't working with a construction crew. It is a job with high risk and high pay and he actually finds the danger exciting.

Ed is a repo man.

He repossesses cars. When payments are long overdue on automobiles and trucks, the Thousand Oaks firm that employs Ed sends him out to retrieve the car, by any means. First, he must track down the car. Then he has to break into it and hot-wire the engine, all of which takes him about 30 seconds. And then he has to drive off before the owners notice.

When they don't, all is well. He has earned commissions of up to $700 a night. When they do, all is hell. Once he was beaten with a golf club. After repossessing a car, he was chased at speeds up to 110 m.p.h. through South Central's streets. Fifteen bullets once tore into Bunn's tow truck, with him inside. He floored the gas pedal and got away unharmed.

It was clear to UTEP's coach, David Lee, right away that this was not your average recruit. When Lee came to recruit Bunn while he was enrolled at L.A. Valley Junior College, Bunn pulled up in his tow truck, with a repo'd car on the hook.

Life isn't easy for football coaches, either, and Lee's team began the current season by losing its first six games. UTEP has been held up to ridicule as the No. 1 team in the "Bottom Ten" ranking of the nation's worst, and only last week did things begin to look up, with a 20-13 victory at Utah.

The light in the tunnel for the Miners continues to be Bunn, whose activity on the field is often as eye-opening as that off. Although he stands 6-feet-3 and weighs 185 pounds, Bunn does not play a position and feels frustrated.

"It's tough to be on the sidelines of a losing team because you can't get into the game and do anything about it," he says.

Technically, no. Yet his punting continues to keep UTEP's situation from being worse than it is. Returning as the No. 12 punter in the nation, Bunn adopted a new style this year, switching from a three-step method and holding the ball with both hands to a two-step advance and a one-handed grip . Some scouts are stunned at how quickly Bunn gets off each kick.

He was punter and placekicker at his high school in Alexandria, Va., but it was after the game when the trouble began. Bunn drank too much and did drugs. "Kid stuff," he calls it now, not proud of himself. When his father asked him to leave, Ed threw his belongings into the trunk and drove to California, taking care of himself and accepting any kind of work.

Now, at 25, he is interested in practicing law, not in breaking it. The repo man doesn't know if any NFL team will be interested in possessing him. But punting, too, is a job, and somebody's got to do it.

Copyright © 2019, Los Angeles Times
EDITION: California | U.S. & World