Some Mountaineer football fans are beginning to wonder if there isn’t some type of magical power coming from Nick O'Toole
's manly mustache.
O’Toole’s power stache
- as WVU special teams coordinator Joe DeForest jokingly refers to it - seems to be getting about as much pub these days as the punter’s powerful right leg.
Both were on prominent display at Milan Puskar Stadium last Saturday afternoon against William & Mary – O’Toole’s two booming punts clearly a game-changer when the Mountaineers were desperately seeking some sort of game-changing play and his power stache
getting some serious camera time during postgame interviews.
“Good for him,” says DeForest. “Whatever it takes, right?”
Tom Selleck’s mustache is the manliest, Ron Burgundy’s the classiest, Wilford Brimley’s the unruliest and Rollie Fingers’ the waxiest, and now with everyone around here talking about O’Toole’s mouth brow, the stache might finally be making a big comeback in the land of the mountain men.
Look out Borat!
Now, Nick’s just got to keep that five o’clock shadow he was sporting the other day from overtaking his popular lip sweater.
“It’s a Friday thing,” O’Toole laughed. “I’ve got to shave it on Friday so it looks good for Saturday.”
It was quite clear that O’Toole’s punts looked pretty good last Saturday afternoon. He got off a pair of 50-yard-plus A-bombs in the second half when the Mountaineers were backed up deep in their own territory, his second one flipping the field and eventually leading to WVU’s go-ahead touchdown. He averaged 50.6 yards for his five punts while also managing to get one inside the 20.
“He couldn’t punt the ball 20 yards until I got my hands on him,” joked DeForest, before turning more serious. “But he does a good job. He works at it. He’s got a strong leg and we knew that coming in.”
So much is made these days of the four- and five-star recruits everyone wants to land on signing day, which means the punters and kickers almost always come up last on everybody’s Wednesday morning wish lists. Yet after the way O’Toole performed last Saturday, he might turn out to be West Virginia’s top recruit.
Last winter, DeForest was on the lookout for a punter who could change field position and help out West Virginia’s ailing defense so he made a call to an old acquaintance Chris Sailor, who has steered about a dozen or so specialists DeForest’s way through the years. Sailor runs kicking academies in Las Vegas and California that frequently unearth some of the top young specialists in the country and Nick O’Toole was one of three names Sailor recommended to DeForest.
“After that I just did my research and decided on one,” said DeForest.
Weighing heavily in O’Toole’s favor was the fact that he was already a qualifier and had only played one year of junior college ball at Fullerton (Calif.) College, meaning he had three years to play four at WVU. Another thing in Nick's favor, aside from his limber leg, was his height (no, not the power stache!
“I love tall punters,” admitted DeForest.
If not for Sailor’s kicking academy, O’Toole probably would have ended up spending another year in junior college.
“I had always heard about Chris Sailor and my dad really wanted me to go because it’s great exposure and he has tons of pull with college coaches,” O’Toole said. “I did really well and I’m just happy he’s got that exposure.”
The Corona, Calif., resident said his spirits got a big boost when DeForest asked him to come on a visit to West Virginia.
“I heard a lot of stories about D-Fo and all the kickers and punters that he’s put out,” O’Toole explained. “I was really surprised and really wanted to know him and see if I could get some of that mojo that’s he’s got. After talking to him and coming out of my visit, all of the knowledge just came to me when I started looking everything up with my dad.”
But first O’Toole had to get an offer, and he wasn’t totally certain one was coming after the way he got the runaround treatment from some other schools.
“One of the schools (recruiting him) was Rutgers and right off the bat I could tell the coach wasn’t as interested as D-Fo was, so I kind of was just keeping them both occupied and seeing what would work out,” said O’Toole. “It was an easy choice for me after I came on my visit. It’s a great atmosphere here and after talking to all of the coaches it’s really like family up here. I love it.”
His teammates clearly enjoy him, too.
A couple of them yelled out “McAfee!” while he talked to reporters in the Milan Puskar Center hallway earlier this week. McAfee, of course, is former WVU punter Pat McAfee who is now starring in the NFL for the Indianapolis Colts. The laid-back O’Toole, though, has a much different personality than the outgoing and quick-witted McAfee, who uses the twitter handle PatMcAfeeShow
and writes a popular off-the-wall blog for the NFL on Fox.
“(O’Toole) walks into the room and everything lights up,” said DeForest. “Everybody likes the kid. He’s a team guy; he’s not a flaky specialist. He’s a normal guy with a great attitude and a level head.”
Leveled headed enough, in fact, to realize that what he did last Saturday against William & Mary was just one game. He is going to have to do it more frequently than that to completely win over the Mountaineer fan base.
“Hopefully I can keep building on this,” he said. “We want to be the best specialists in the nation – that’s what we strive for.”
“The bottom line is it’s only one game and we can’t get too carried away because there are going to be other challenges that we have with other teams that pressure the kick a little bit more,” cautioned DeForest.
The coach also pointed out that this weekend’s opponent Oklahoma has one of the best punt returners in the country in Jalen Saunders. This Saturday we might get an opportunity to see how well O’Toole can steer his powerful punts with some directional kicking.
“He’s pretty good at it, but he’s not as consistent with it as he is hitting a big ball with great hang because that’s what you do 90 percent of the time,” said DeForest.
Perhaps the power of the stache can help give his right leg the mojo it needs to guide a few of his punts away from Saunders, or to places where he can’t harm the Mountaineers, right Nick?
O’Toole smiled and shrugged, “I’m not going to shave it off or anything.”
Why would he?