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With Mids, no leg up in 3-man punting battle

The Baltimore Sun

Three years ago as a plebe, Greg Veteto walked on to the practice field at Navy to try out for punter. He made the team and last season stepped up to deliver as the Mids' go-to guy in that position.

He might have thought that this season, as a senior, he would be the No. 1 punter again. Instead, the native of Corpus Christi, Texas, is in a three-way battle. He's virtually deadlocked with freshman Kyle Delahooke, and senior Joey Bullen is pressing them both.

Veteto, 22, smiles quizzically and shrugs when asked about the competition.

"It's quite humbling," he said. "There are three of us in a real tight battle. Last year, I did the job well."

A year ago, Veteto punted in 11 of 13 games for a 38.1-yard average. In the eyes of his coaches, his most ingratiating trait was his consistency.

Veteto is aware of how important consistency is. He knows he has to get the ball off "quicker than the other guys" and that the player who does that consistently and produces the best yardage consistently will get the call.

During the preseason, Veteto's ability to produce consistently has wavered, which is why the door has opened for Delahooke and Bullen, who also is the backup kicker.

"To me, it's anyone's race," special teams coordinator Jeff Monken said. "Any one of them could be our punter.

"Greg has experience and was very solid last year, but hasn't had the kind of consistency I'd like to see this summer. Joey Bullen was our kicker two years ago and our PAT guy last year, and Delahooke has shown us he has a very strong leg. But all three have shown that lack of consistency.

"I'm hoping between now and our opener that someone will separate himself from the pack."

Navy opens the season Aug. 31 against Temple in Philadelphia.

Delahooke, from Pasadena, Calif., said he knows the likelihood of beating out Veteto is not good.

"Greg has the experience," Delahooke said. "[He and Bullen] have three years of experience in specialty kicking on me. They have the upper hand there. It's going to be tough."

Bullen, originally recruited as a soccer player, knows a little about what Veteto is going through. He made an impression as a kicker in 2004 when he earned first-team honors in the All-Collegiate Sprint Football League.

He followed that up with a school-record 52 extra points in his sophomore season. But after being sidelined last year with leg injuries he finds himself as backup to junior Matt Harmon, who handled most of the kicking last year, and at punter.

"I'm happy to back these guys up," Bullen said. " ... I got hurt and that's what happened." He said he will continue to work hard for one of the kicking positions.

For Delahooke, 18, football is half the reason he is at Navy. The academy is the other half.

"I wanted to come here because I'll be pushed beyond the level I would normally be," he said. "Certain days, like today, it's really tough because there are a million things you have to do. Tomorrow will be a good day. It helps to keep looking ahead."

As a plebe, he is considering a political science major and thinking about choosing the Marine Corps at graduation.

"We're all kind of in a weird spot," Delahooke said about the competition at punter. "We don't know what the coaches are thinking. With the three of us there is some excitement and some anxiety, but each of us will be happy if any one of us starts."

And who will start?

Coach Paul Johnson said he still doesn't know.

"We might make that decision right before we make our first punt," he said.

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