If first-year Northwestern State football coach Brad Laird decides to name a “Most Improved” Demon in his team’s postseason awards, punter Parker Pastorello will be a prime candidate.
Pastorello, a junior from Mandeville, is mounting a challenge to the 53-year-old school record for punting average, 42.6 in 1965 by future NFL punter Wayne Walker. Heading into the eighth game of the fall Saturday evening at 6 in Turpin Stadium against Houston Baptist, Pastorello is carrying a 41.6 average on 45 boots, more than three yards better than his 38.4 rate on 53 kicks as a sophomore.
More impressive, says Laird, is that Pastorello has already matched his 2017 total of 16 punts downed inside the 20-yard line, and has hammered 10 punts of at least 50 yards, two more than he had all of last season.
His average, third among 11 in the Southland Conference, surpasses any NSU punter’s season rate in 33 years, since Mike Crow’s 42.4 in 1985. The best this century is 41.4 in 2007 by Marshall Burton.
Last Saturday at Central Arkansas, Pastorello had five of his punts downed inside the 20, including one that skipped out of bounds at the Bears’ 2. His average on nine attempts was a modest 38.4 because he was aiming to stymie UCA in tough spots near its own goalline.
“He’s done such a good job of putting the ball inside the 20 and that’s a big deal in field position, which is so critical,” said Laird, who said Pastorello’s progress is rooted in his consistent effort.
“His work ethic has been tremendous. He’s a smart football player who understands football. He’s an athlete and he’s contributed in other areas outside of punting, working scout team offense last year.”
Pastorello put in the work off the field as well as during practice. The process began in January, two months before spring practice, and continued all summer long, he said.
“I give a lot of credit to our strength and conditioning staff, who started early this year pushing us in January and throughout the summer. They came up with specific workouts to build up my leg strength and that helped a lot.”
NSU’s coaching staff shares special teams oversight. Defensive coordinator Mike Lucas handles the punt team and the 29-year coaching veteran has an eagle eye seeking precise execution, said Pastorello. That and the other 10 Demons on the punt team have contributed to his improvement, he said.
“Coach Lucas puts it in detail every day. We have the best 11 guys who are going to work their tails off on the punt team.
“I have a bunch (downed) inside the 20 and I give a lot of credit to the gunners (on the outside) who get downfield to the ball,” said Pastorello. “The entire team sprints downfield and forces a lot of fair catches and short returns.”
Pastorello doesn’t want to break the single-season record for punt attempts (74 twice, by Mike Crow in 1984 and Chris Stegall in 2002; ironically, the Demons shared the Gulf Star Conference crown in 1984 and reached the FCS playoffs in 2002). Crow has the season yardage record (2,929 yards in 1985).
But when called upon, he aims to back up the opposition and continue his run at Walker’s longstanding record.
“A punter’s job is not just to kick the ball deep, but to get it placed so our cover team is in great position,” said Laird. “Parker’s done well with conventional punts and rugby-style punts and he’s become a weapon for us.”