The crowd went wild for Paul Layton.
He was three years old and on the court at his older brother’s youth league basketball game. Layton stood at the free-throw line, making shot after shot as the fans kept cheering.
Layton, who holds the 12th best punting average in the nation with Temple, grew up in a sports-dominated household, as each of his three siblings played collegiate athletics. His brother, Steve, was a tight end at Union College. Layton’s sister, Jessica, played soccer at Syracuse while his other sister Lauren was on the field hockey team at State University of New York Oswego.
The youngest of his family, Layton carried on the family tradition and played football for the University at Albany through the 2012 season. After earning his bachelor’s degree in business administration, Layton still had one year of eligibility left to continue punting. But he wanted to experience a more competitive environment, as he desired to transition from Albany, a FCS team, to a FBS university.
While Layton was looking for a new school, Temple was looking for a new kicker. The Owls were losing their all-time leading scorer in placekicker Brandon McManus. McManus currently holds school records for punting average, field goals made and field goals attempted. Layton first met McManus at a kicking camp in Wisconsin, where they started talking.
“He said they were looking for a guy, and I was looking for a spot to go so it just seemed like a perfect fit,” Layton said.
After turning down various offers from schools like Notre Dame and Penn State, a scholarship offer from Temple and an opportunity to start immediately proved to be convincing factors.
“I came in January and the guys welcomed me in for workouts and offseason training,” Layton said. “I spent a lot of time in the summer bonding with them. Coming into the season, we felt like we were going to have a pretty good team. We’ve obviously had some growing pains with a young team.”
In his final year of collegiate athletics, Layton found himself in a unique situation at Temple.
“Usually you come in with a group of freshmen and you spend four or five years with them,” Layton said. “This year, I was basically starting from scratch with a whole new team. I didn’t come in with a group of 20 guys that are all my year. So it was a little challenging at first to find the right group to sort of fit into, but I feel very comfortable now.”
Layton has garnered several accomplishments over the course of his first season with Temple. This past summer, he was named to the 2013 College Football Performance Awards Special Teams Watch List. After averaging 51.2 yards during a matchup against nationally-ranked Louisville, Layton was awarded the title of National Punter of the Week by the College Football Performance Awards.
After Temple picked up its first win against Army, Layton was named the American Athletic Conference Special Teams Player of the Week, while also receiving the mid-season honor of Phil Steele’s Second Team All-American Athletic Conference Punter. Most recently, Layton was named one of 85 candidates for the Ray Guy Award – the nation’s top award for a punter.
“I think he’s done a fantastic job for us,” coach Matt Rhule said. “He’s changed field position. He really has played well in the big games. Even holding on extra points and field goals, there’s been some bad snaps and he’s gotten the ball down. He brings maturity and he brings a lot of game experience.”
“He’s done great,” McManus said. “He definitely made everyone forget about me, which is good. That’s what I want. I definitely wanted someone to come in behind me and succeed, because it always helps represent our university and makes us look better.”
Layton, who after last week’s 59-49 loss saw his punting average dip slightly to 44.3, currently holds the second best average in The American behind Memphis senior Tom Hornsey. The record for career punting average is 45.4 yards, held by McManus. McManus said he hopes Layton can break it.
McManus got some professional experience after being signed by the Indianapolis Colts this past summer but was cut before the season began. He still works out with the Owls just in case he gets a call. As Layton continues to pursue his master’s degree in the spring, he said he will be aiming for the NFL as well.
“I’d like to try and pursue the next level,” Layton said. “I’ll talk to Brandon about that when the time comes, because he has some experience.”
While the punting game has been a source of pride for the Owls, Layton’s first season has involved mostly losses. Temple currently holds a 1-7 record.
“It’s a little disappointing when the punter is one of the bright spots,” Layton said. “I think that’s going to change. I certainly feel like we’re going to step it up. I do feel like it was the right decision to come here. I’ve had a great time meeting all of these great guys.”
“They’re great people, and it’s a great coaching staff,” Layton added. “It’s been a good opportunity. It’s been a lot of fun and hopefully we can pick it up at the end of the season. I definitely want to turn this around.”
Avery Maehrer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @AveryMaehrer.