Former BU punter puts best foot forward

Story by Lauren Bechard

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When it comes to punting, former Baker University football player Garrett Chumley is in the minority.

One might not think there’s much of a difference between the left and the right foot; anatomically, they look similar and they seem to serve the same purpose, but for NFL punt returners, there’s a whopping difference.

Baker alumnus Garrett Chumley practices punting for the BU football team in 2011. Chumley will have the chance to practice with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers this weekend.

With 75 percent of professional punters being right-footed, a team faces an unusual challenge when it plays against an opponent with a left-footed punter.

Chumley is one of the few lefties out there, and in an effort to chase his dreams, the Baker alumnus has been taking advantage of his rare talent.

On Thursday, Chumley made his way to Florida, where he will spend the weekend practicing with the National Football League’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

The opportunity comes after a journey that Chumley says has been “physically, mentally, emotionally and financially very hard to do.”

In the middle of nowhere

When it came time to search for colleges, Chumley knew he wanted to go somewhere and play football. However, there was one minor glitch in his plan – he wasn’t being recruited.

“I had to find my way onto the roster to play in college,” Chumley said.

The punter started out at Washburn University, but when he decided to transfer two years later, he found himself in a “middle-of-nowhere Kansas town” where he would spend his final years of college as a special teams player for BU.

In 2011, Chumley finished his season with a 39.8 punting yards per attempt average, good for a No. 14 finish in Division I NAIA football.

While playing at BU, the punter formed a tight relationship with teammate Caleb Johnson.

Not only was Johnson the long snapper, he says he was also Chumley’s “partner in crime.”

“It was incredible working and playing with him,” Johnson said. “There is a special partnership between a punter and a long snapper and for us, a great friendship was made. I have a friend for life so seeing him be successful is really neat.”

The pair graduated in 2012, but after their senior season ended, Chumley knew it wasn’t the end for his football career.

“A lot of people would call him crazy for doing what he’s done, but he didn’t listen to anybody,” Johnson said. “If he puts his mind to something, he’s going to go get it.”

A “crazy ride”

Upon graduating from BU, Chumley headed west to Arizona and California where he would spend two years of his life in intense training workouts with former NFL kicker Michael Husted.

“I put my life and everything on hold to move away from everything and everybody I know,” Chumley said. “There have been a few moments through the process that have made me wonder if it’s going to be worth it.”

One difficulty Chumley encountered was the distance that separated him and the support system he relied on, which included his parents Mike and Brenda.

“It was a necessary part of the process for him to move away and go through intense training, but it was really difficult not to be there physically,” Brenda said. “We could only be there for him through Skype, FaceTime and phone calls. It was hard providing support from afar, but in hindsight, that helped Garrett figure it out on his own and build himself up mentally.”

During his time in training, Chumley attended various camps and two showcases specialized for punters, snappers and kickers called “combines,” each in April of 2011 and 2012.

At each combine, though, Chumley felt the elements were not in his favor.

“The weather was the worst it could have been,” Chumley said. “For everybody there who is trying to show the best they have, when the weather isn’t ideal, specifically in punting, it’s hard to put your best foot forward.”

While the weather created a bump in the road for all athletes in attendance, Chumley thought that he handled the conditions well at his second combine.

“This year proved to me that I was able to overcome those obstacles and do very well, which ultimately led to this opportunity I have today,” Chumley said. “That’s why my name was first on the list when they needed a guy.”

Best foot forward; left foot forward

On Tuesday night, Chumley received a call from Husted.

The kicking coach informed Chumley about the possibility of Tampa Bay needing a left-footed punter to come work out with the team in preparation for its game against the Arizona Cardinals on Sunday.

“We were all just sitting in the living room,” Brenda said. “Garrett went outside to talk to his coach, and when he came back in he just looked at me and all he said was, ‘Tampa Bay.’ I got so excited and he was pretty speechless. It’s been surreal.”

Sure enough, the Buccaneers called him the following morning. Chumley says the call was “short and sweet, but very much business.”

“They left it open-ended,” Chumley said. “They said ‘we want you to come work out, we need a left-footed guy,’ and they wanted to know if I was staying in shape and keeping up with my workouts.”

Although Chumley is home and finished training with Husted, he continues to put in work and stay on top of his game. Still, Chumley began to question whether he was actually ready for the opportunity he’d been waiting for.

“When I got the phone call, all I could do is wonder if I had been doing enough,” Chumley said. “Anybody is going to wonder that, though, and you just have to reassure yourself that you have done everything you can to prepare.”

In fact, when Johnson heard of his friend’s news, he immediately took off work on Wednesday to get in a practice session before Chumley would have to leave.

Before receiving the phone call, Chumley was beginning to wonder if he would ever get the opportunity he had worked so hard for.

“I hope that he has learned that you should never stop pursuing your dream, even when the door feels like it’s closing,” Brenda said.

Hard work pays off

When Brenda watches her son play football, she sees a player with “an incredible amount of drive and tenacity and perseverance.”

“He used any obstacles (he faced) as a feeder to push harder, and a lot of times people will stop at that point and give up, but he has this ability to push through,” Brenda said.

Chumley’s sister Tara is a senior on the BU softball team. She is “excited beyond words” for her brother, whom she has always admired.

“Not only is he a huge inspiration, he is also an awesome role model,” Tara said. “He has shown me how to be a successful college athlete. He has taught me never to give up until you are where you want to be.”

Chumley believes it was his persistence that landed him in the position he’s in today.

“There have been so many obstacles that have come up, so many people have told me I’m not good enough,” Chumley said. “I just shrugged them off, took each obstacle as it came, and persevered.”

Chumley hopes his story will be inspiration for others as they strive to pursue their goals.

“You don’t have to be some big-shot from a big school or from some Division I football powerhouse to get the dream you want,” Chumley said. “If you have passion, motivation, drive, hard work, anything’s possible.”

Tara added, “He is living proof that despite how many people tell you the odds are against you, if you work hard enough and stay focused, you can achieve your goals.”

Reaching his dreams

Chumley says he wants to use the chance he has to practice with the Buccaneers as a stepping stone to the next aspiration he will work toward.

“I’m not signing with the Buccaneers, but just the fact that I’ll be in front of NFL coaches, this could lead to greater things in the future,” Chumley said. “When it’s all said and done … I hope it gives me the chance to show up in the NFL.”

As he steps onto the Tampa Bay Buccaneers field to practice this weekend, Chumley will make sure he doesn’t forget about everyone who has helped him along the way.

“(The support) has been nothing short of amazing,” Chumley said. “My family has been right by my side the whole time. There are so many things in this journey that have been hard to handle, but with their support, it makes it a lot easier. I don’t think I could have made it this far without them.”

The same goes for his alma mater.

“I just want to say that I’ve had so much support from everybody down there today, and I’m sure I will have even more in the next couple days and wherever this (opportunity) takes me. I truly appreciate the Baker crowd still having my back and keeping me motivated.”