Leone gives UH an advantage

Richie Leone lines up to punt in inclement weather.  |  File photo/The Daily Cougar

Richie Leone lines up to punt in inclement weather. | File photo/The Daily Cougar

As a junior in high school, Richie Leone was the best high school punter UH football head coach Tony Levine had seen to that point, Levine said.

With a senior punter graduating after the 2009 season, UH held a camp in which 100 punters came to try out for a roster spot, and Leone’s technique shone, Levine said.

“I’ve been fortunate to coach some NFL kickers and punters and at his age; as a senior in high school, he’s the best, technically, I had ever seen,” Levine said.

Leone, now a college junior, is fulfilling the promise Levine saw. He leads the nation in yards per punt at 48.30, and it contributes to winning, according to Levine.

“In the team meeting today, I showed about five plays from our offense from the game against Rice, five from the defense and five from special teams and told our players, ‘I’m going to show you examples of why we won the game,’” Levine said. “One of them was an example of (Leone) standing at our own 8-yard line punting a football and at the end of the play, Rice started at their own 12-yard line.”

Against Louisiana Tech, Leone went head-to-head with Ryan Allen, last season’s Ray Guy award winner — the Ray Guy award is given to college football’s top punter — and finished with better statistics.

Leone finished with an average of 51.8 yards per punt and a long of 77 yards on four punts. Allen averaged 42.1 yards per punt on seven punts.

Leone says his success can be attributed to the players around him.

“It starts with our long snapper, Brandon (Hartson), who is doing a good job snapping it,” Leone said. “Then we got off a couple good punts, and our coverage team’s getting down there and making plays.”

His biggest impact may be the energy UH garners from pinning an opposing team deep in its own territory, senior linebacker Phillip Steward said after the game.

“Starting the game off, when Richie kicked it deep and the cover team got down there fast, that fueled us as a defense,” Steward said. When we stop the opponent down there, it gives our offense a chance to score. Every time he has a good kick, it gives us a chance to stop them in the red zone like we did tonight.”

Levine recruited Leone from Roswell, Ga. while still a special teams coach. Though the University of Tennessee and Vanderbilt University had interest, it was too late. Leone was already committed to UH.

Levine said Leone is a weapon.

“We don’t like to use him very often — but when we have to — really every week at least once, he has shown what he is capable of,” Levine said.

Senior kicker Matt Hogan, one of Leone’s best friends on the team, said he has grown exponentially during his tenure at UH.

“Just seeing him mature and perfect his craft — I’ve seen him go off a few summers, and each year he’s gotten better,” Hogan said. “It has really shown this year.”

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