Huber aces home hole

Updated: 5:20 p.m.

The phone call came when Kevin Huber's foursome drove up to the tee box of California Golf Course's long par-4 17th and Jeremy Huber got a little excited when his brother walked away to take the call.

After about five minutes Kevin came back and asked him if he wanted to be his roommate in Cincinnati. Jeremy started screaming and everybody else started screaming when they realized that meant the Bengals had taken the hometown kid in the fifth round of Sunday's NFL Draft. His dad was playing about two groups back and the woods suddenly sounded like the back nine at Augusta with Tiger and Phil.

"The other golfers probably weren't very happy," Kevin Huber said. "Jeremy has always been saying he wants to be my roommate, so when I asked him that he knew what I meant." 

After Huber became one of the select few to play his high school and college ball in Cincinnati before getting drafted by the hometown Bengals as the nation's No. 1 punter, special teams coach Darrin Simmons admitted it also sent a message to the struggling Kyle Larson after his 34.1-yard net average placed him near the bottom of the league.

"We're trying to get better and this is a chance to bring in a guy who is going to compete," Simmons said.

Huber, a lefty who grew up in Anderson Township on Cincinnati's east side, figures to do more than that after an All-American season at the University of Cincinnati he had 21 punts downed inside the 20 and 18 of least 50 yards. That culminated a career at UC in which he earned the rep of a guy that can change the field position in an instant.

The 6-1, 220-pound Huber went to McNicholas High where he was his league's Punter of the Year in his last two seasons. Back in the day, he does remember wearing one bit of Bengaldom.

"A Starter's jacket," he said. "That was sweet."

The transition won't be much of a transition off the field and maybe even on because it almost seems like he's been the Bengals 1-A punter since the end of the season. He spent the first day of the draft at the Reds game before going to UC's intrasquad scrimmage to receive the Bearcats Big East championship rings. Then on Sunday, Huber capped off the Cincy Sports Three-Way by wearing a Bengals hat at a press conference introducing him instead of the old out-of-town conference call.

"My brother," he said, "must have called 200 people in 20 minutes."

This just wasn't a spur of the moment golf game. Huber got plenty of advice to get out of the house and not stay glued to the set. Former UC defensive back Haruki Nakamura was among those after the Ravens took him in the sixth round last season. So the foursome included Kevin, Jeremy, their brother-law Rich Strausbaugh, and former UC long snapper Mike Windt.

But he never teed it up on 17 even though he was headed to a score in the high 80s.

"I would like to have seen how far that drive would have gone. I was pretty excited," Huber said.

The Bengals are pretty excited, too. They finally got the guy who always seems to be on the other side changing games with one swift kick.

He was always the kid with the big foot. He was the goalie in soccer because he was the slowest guy who could kick it the farthest. Which figures. Back when Xavier had a team, his father was a kicker-tight end who "kicked with his toe." His brother played some college football locally at Mount St. Joseph and his sister played college soccer.

"And my mother was a kickball champion," Huber said. "My grandma wanted me to say that. She was a kickball champion. So I guess kicking runs in the family."

What has really impressed Simmons and head coach Marvin Lewis is Huber's demeanor as much as his foot. They coached him at the Senior Bowl, where he surived Lewis' needling ("We came all this way to watch you punt?") and Simmons' demands. When Simmons asked Huber if he wanted to punt like he did at UC or punt according to game situations, Huber told him, "I want to play it like a game like you would," even though it would be new and probably affect his performance.

"I thought that spoke a lot about his mental toughness," Simmons said. "Not that it was a big thing, but he went out on a little bit of a limb ... Marvin said it. It's not too big for him."

Huber thought it was the only way to go.

"I'm pretty comfortable with directional punting. If I felt it was new to me, I probably would have shied away from it," Huber said. "To play in this league there is directional punting (because) every game you're playing agaist the best returners and you've got to kick it away from them."

Huber figures the Bengals are sick of seeing him and talking to him. "Now they're stuck with me," he joked. After the Senior Bowl there was the NFL scouting combine and then there was UC's Pro Day and then the Bengals day for local prospects. But that day at Paul Brown Stadium was scratched because of bad weather and he came back two days later.

It was worth the wait for a kid that had gone to games at Riverfront Stadium and PBS earlier than most because he liked to watch the punters warm up.

"You can tell by how they're walking around what their mental (state) is. How focused they are," he said. "It was a different perspective. Instead of looking down from the stands, now I'm finally looking up. It's a cool thing."

And it will be cool. And it will be cold and it will be hot. If Huber knows Cincy sports, he knows the fickle winds of the weather, particularly down by the river. He was in the stands last Sept. 14 during what had to be the windiest game in club history.

"I was up in the upper deck. I thought the wind was going to tear it off. Then I went into the lower deck," he said.

Huber admits he doesn't have a favorite Bengals memory, but he thinks he's going to be starting a collection. He's not sure if his sister and brother still have season tickets, "but they will now if they don't."

Huber becomes the first specialist drafted in Lewis' and Simmons' seven seasons, and the first for the Bengals since punter-kicker Travis Dorsch went in the fourth round in 2002. The Bengals also coached Larson in the Senior Bowl before signing him as a free agent after the 2004 draft. 

"I think it's cool," said Lewis of the local connection. "Obviously he knows we really like him. We've spent a lot of time with Kevin. I think it's pretty cool for him to grow up here, go to school at UC, go through the football season they had and come here and help us win games. That's pretty neat thing for him and his family and it's exciting for us, but I know it means a lot for them."
 

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