Packer People Profile: Tim Masthay
by Mike Conklin
July 11, 2012
The day he was hired in January 2006, Mike McCarthy released an official mission statement that included the following sentence:
“The foundation for the new direction of the Green Bay Packers will be constructed with three key components of obtaining "Packer People," creating "Stable Structure" and concentrating on "Character and Chemistry."
Mike McCarthy and Ted Thompson work in tandem, and they have not wavered from this approach. "Packer People" is a term that has evolved to the point that it no longer needs definition. Suffice it to say that if a player is the kind of guy you would want your daughter to marry, he's "Packer People."
The Packers roster is littered with players that fit this profile. Their punter is one of them.
Tim Masthay doesn't take anything for granted.
"Being a free agent is tough. I do remember that time very vividly," said Masthay, referring to the year he spent out of football after graduating from the University of Kentucky and going undrafted. "The days were long. I was working out in a gym, and punting on my own. Not knowing if you're going to play again or get another shot...it's tough."
To make ends meet, Masthay took a tutoring job for $10 an hour while Amanda, his newlywed wife, worked as a bank teller. Sometimes to pick up some extra cash they would babysit their former professor's child on the weekends.
"Free agency is a tough thing," Masthay told ESPN Milwaukee. "You just don’t know if it’s ever going to happen. And I didn’t want to jump into another career because I was still giving this a shot. It’s a hard thing. And even when I got signed by the Packers, you’re still trying to make it. It’s not like you sign a contract and you’re on the team. It’s a difficult thing, but it’s good to go through. There’s challenges in life, and this was one of those."
The thought of being a professional football player was the furthest thing from his mind in Masthay's formative years. He played soccer, baseball, and basketball, and was good at everything he tried. In fact, he was the best athlete in school.
"I always wanted to be a pro athlete," Masthay reflected in an interview with the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel. "I don't think I cared that much what sport it'd be. . . . I didn't start playing football until I was a junior in high school, so before that I really never thought about the NFL or college football or anything like that. Before that, it was more baseball and soccer. I always dreamed of playing pro sports but I didn't think I'd be doing this until much later down the road."
That road began when his best friend since third grade, Cory Zirbel, was constantly in his ear in high school. Zirbel was on the football team, and when he wanted to practice his long snapping Masthay would tag along and do the kicking since he had a soccer background. They would use the practice field at Murray State University, where Masthay's dad worked as a chemistry professor. They would often run into the MSU kickers Shane Andrus (who went on to play in the NFL) and Gary Crass there. Masthay would line up and kick 40-plus yard field goals alongside them, despite never having been on a football team.
"Tim was competing with those guys, and he'd never kicked before," Zirbel recalls. Zirbel kept telling Masthay he should join the football team, and finally enlisted the help of Murray High School head coach Rick Fisher. Together they eventually wore Masthay down, although they did have to convince his mother first. Jean Masthay felt the game was too dangerous, and had to be persuaded to allow her son to play.
When he finally joined the team, Masthay made an immediate impression. Coach Fisher clearly remembers his first day at practice. The coaches were congregated on one side of the field working with the team, while Masthay began to boot kickoffs from the opposite end zone.
"When he made his first kick, I promise you, the whole coaching staff turned around to look," Fisher remembers. "We didn't see how far he kicked it. We could just hear the sound of his foot hitting the ball and how strong it was. As soon as we saw that, we knew we had something special."
Fisher had to be creative to keep Masthay engaged with the team, since he had so many interests in other sports he had been playing for years. As a junior, Masthay was allowed to kick during the games on Fridays even though he spent most of the week practicing with the soccer team instead of the football team.
"We're such a small school, you pretty much have to share people if you're going to be successful," Fisher said. "I just knew he had the ability to be a good football player, and hold down our kicking duties for us."
With no football background, Masthay essentially taught himself to kick. The coaches gave him a few videos to watch, but that was about the extent of it. Other than picking the brains of Andrus and Crass, the college players from Murray State, he was virtually on his own.
He thrived, and by the time his senior season rolled around Fisher suggested that he have a bigger role on the team. With his success in other sports, it was apparent that he was a good athlete. Fisher thought the team would be well served if he also lined up as a receiver, so he added that to his duties as well. The coach's instinct was correct, as Masthay had a breakout season. Eight games into the year he led the entire state in receiving, until his quarterback went down and the team struggled. He finished third in the state, with 49 receptions for 1,121 yards (22.9 average) and 15 touchdowns. He also added a couple more touchdowns on kickoff returns, and another on an interception return.
“My favorite part of high school football was scoring a touchdown, kicking the extra point, and then kicking off,” recalled Masthay.
His emergence as more than a kicker and punter also caught the attention of major college programs. After his stellar senior season, he was the 14th rated high school prospect in the state, and was recruited by many high-profile schools. He was content to stay near home in Kentucky, and didn't seriously consider other offers. The Wildcats had told him they may let him play some wide receiver in addition to his punting and kicking duties, although that never materialized.
Nonetheless, he had the opportunity to hone his craft as a specialist. After having been self-taught up to that point, he now had daily instruction by former St. Louis Rams head coach Rich Brooks, who had previously spent time as a special teams coach with the 49ers.
“My head coach in college, Rich Brooks, was also the punting coach,” said Masthay. “He worked with me day in and day out my entire four years and always stuck with me, through thick and thin. The perseverance he showed in developing me as a punter has aided me in continually trying to improve and stick with it even when things seem bleak.”
And Masthay did have his bleak moments. Early in his college career he wasn't progressing as a punter like he thought he should, and wondered if he wanted to continue to play.
“My sophomore year of college I wanted to quit playing football," recalled Masthay. "I found my identity slipping, my purpose waning, and the joy gone."
The success that he had found so easily as the best athlete in a fairly small high school leveled off once he started playing in the toughest conference in college football, the SEC. He had some growing pains. He was slow to get punts off at times, which resulted in several blocks. And he had moments of inconsistency, as he would boom one punt only to shank the next.
"I felt like I was taking steps back as a punter and that I would always just struggle and be miserable about it. I didn’t plan on quitting in the middle of the season, but I did give it serious consideration."
Masthay did a lot of soul searching during that time, but finally decided to keep pursuing his path. He drew courage from his faith.
"I waited for 'success' to return, but knew in my heart that only God could fill the voids and restore me," he reflected. "Instead of quitting I just decided to lean on God for strength and stick it out. And man, am I glad that’s the path I wound up walking down.”
Faith is one of the major themes in Masthay's life. He has said that if he weren't playing football you might find him in the Peace Corps, or even a seminary. But he is careful not to hit people over the head with his beliefs.
"(My faith) is most important in my life...I guess I don’t come on heavy about it, and I may not come on as heavy as I should. It’s one of those things where, I try to live out my faith and talk about it when I think it’s good to talk about."
One thing is for sure, when it comes to serving others Masthay practices what he preaches. He dedicates himself tirelessly to a variety of charities, and as a senior in college was one of only 11 players in major college football named to the AllState/AFCA (American Football Coaches Association) Good Works Team. One of his favorite causes was Hope Lodge, a facility run by the American Cancer Society that helps cancer patients that have to travel away from home to receive necessary treatments.
“The Hope Lodge is by Commonwealth Stadium, where Kentucky plays football. I saw it and wondered what it was all about,” Masthay explained. “So I stopped by, they took me around and I thought it was an awesome mission. So I just plugged in.”
That's putting it mildly. He would drive the cancer patients in shuttle vans to and from treatment. He would help clean the rooms. He would even answer phones. But for as much as Masthay gave, he seemed to gain just as much himself through the experience.
“I saw lives impacted and the people there were fantastic,” he said. “Some of them were going through some pretty difficult stuff, but they still had this spirit to them. That was special.”
Masthay's generous spirit was not lost on the staff at the facility either.
“I have never seen a student like Tim who was willing to do whatever he could to help out,” said Sheldon Kozee, director of the Lexington Hope Lodge. “Tim is truly an outstanding individual and we always knew great things were in store for him.”
As great of a person as Masthay may be, however, as a football player he will be remembered chiefly for his contributions on the field. This is another area in which he has not disappointed. Last year, Masthay set franchise records for gross (45.6) and net (38.56) punting averages. In addition to those numbers, an impressive 41.8% of his punts were downed inside the 20, with only 7.27% being touchbacks. He had some dominant performances last year, including memorable games during which the Bears' Devin Hester was completely neutralized.
“The punter can change field position dramatically,” special teams coordinator Shawn Slocum told Packer Report. “You saw what Masthay did the second half of the season and what he did against Chicago in those last two games. That guy really has a chance to affect the game. When you start putting your opponent inside the 20 — we did it five times against Chicago — then you’re playing better defense, too, because the scoring probability goes down.”
"I don't think people realize how great of an athlete Tim really is," said Mike McCarthy during his weekly television show last season. "Just to watch him grow not only as not only as a punter, but just physically the things that he can do...his ball placement is exceptional. He's clearly not only the best punter we've had in my time here, but also the most gifted."
Not bad for a guy who not long ago was working for $10 an hour as a part-time tutor, waiting for the phone to ring for another shot at football.
“I don’t know how to put it into words, honestly,” he said. “I haven’t figured out a way to describe it. It’s all like a dream.”
If he keeps up this pace, the Packers won't want to wake from this dream anytime soon.
(Photo Credit: Packers.com)