There weren’t many players the Gators leaned on as much as Johnny Townsend last year.
The redshirt junior punter repeatedly delivered for Florida, flipping fields with his booming kicks and finishing among the nation’s top 10 punters for the Ray Guy Award. He did it all while posting a Southeastern Conference-most 83 punts and the 10th-highest average yards per punt (45.36) in the country.
But now, Townsend has his sights set on becoming the best, and a familiar face sharing the field with him might give him the slight edge he’s been looking for.
Townsend’s younger brother, Tommy, is now his teammate. He transferred from Tennessee over the summer after redshirting as a freshman and moved in with Townsend when their eldest brother, Clay, departed for UCF’s medical school this year.
As many brothers do, the two compete with each other often.
“I’ve been working with him since I was a freshman in high school, so we get to train a lot with each other and go at it back and forth,” Townsend said. “Being able to compete with each other makes us both better, so it definitely helps in the long run.”
Tommy, who stands at 6-foot-1 like his brother, was one of the top-ranked punters in the class of 2015 coming out of Orlando’s Boone High School. Townsend said he has a chance to have a similarly bright future at Florida thanks to his height and athleticism.
The goal for the two, Townsend said, is to leave their marks on the program and hopefully play in the NFL.
“Sort of like the Colquitts,” Townsend said, referring to current NFL punters Dustin and Britton Colquitt, who both attended Tennessee in the 2000s. “That’s something we can try to start, a little punting legacy.”
But Townsend knows he’s far from being NFL-ready. He still wants to improve the hang times on his punts, as well as force more fair catches and limit long returns.
And because specialists in the NFL tend to stick with teams, Townsend won’t have much room for error this season.
“It’s very difficult. Playing at the next level is one of the toughest things to do, especially as a specialist,” he said. “You have to compete against some veterans that have been on the teams for such a long time. It’s difficult at any position to make it at the next level, but especially as a punter or kicker.”
With UF’s season opener against Massachusetts less than two weeks away, Townsend isn’t worrying about a pro career or anything else that far down the road.
“I’m trying to focus on the Gators right now and what I can do to be the best here and leave my mark on this program,” he said. “That’s really all I’m focused on right now.”