Online exclusive: Zastudil gets his kicks
Fall Sundays, formerly days of rest for weary Ohio University football fans, gave Bobcat supporters reason to stand up and cheer in 2002 -- thanks to Dave Zastudil.
Zastudil, BBA '02, became the first Bobcat selected in the National Football League Draft since 1976. Chosen in the fourth round by the Baltimore Ravens, the Bay Village, Ohio, native became the first punter ever drafted by the team. The Bobcat All-American led the Mid-American Conference in punting each of his four collegiate seasons.
Although he's no stranger to taking the field, Zastudil found the Ravens' season opener at Carolina breathtaking.
"It was a great feeling," Zastudil says. "I went out on the field about two hours before kickoff. I've never seen grass so green. The stadium is relatively new and was beautiful. I looked around and thought to myself, 'Now's the time to show everyone what you can do.'"
Sixteen games later, Zastudil had made a strong impression.
In his rookie season with the Ravens, Zastudil punted 81 times, averaging 41.6 yards per kick. Known at Ohio for his strong, precise leg, he showed NFL return men both traits in 2002. Zastudil had 31 punts downed inside the opponents' 20-yard line, good for second in the league.Twenty of his kicks traveled 50 yards or longer, with a seasonlong of 61 yards in a Sept. 30 Baltimore win over Denver. His low total of five touchbacks placed Zastudil among league leaders.
"I loved my first season in the NFL," Zastudil noted just days removed from a trip to watch Tampa Bay crush Oakland in the Super Bowl. "It was everything I thought it would be and more. I had hoped to get through the entire season without injury, and I was glad to say that I did. Like any rookie season, there were ups and downs, but I think my ups outweighed my downs."
Zastudil discovered that desire counts as much as physical ability in the big league.
"Hard work pays off," he says. "You not only have to be in great physical shape, but you also must be in peak mental condition. If you don't have what it takes upstairs or lack confidence in yourself, you won't make it. You can see it in everyone's eyes."
The Ravens, two years removed from a Super Bowl title, finished a rebuilding 2002 season with a 7-9 record, good for third in the AFC North Division.
Zastudil, who is back in the Cleveland area until workouts resume in April, is putting his Ohio University double major in finance and marketing to work as an intern with McDonald Investments until he has to return to Baltimore. As his first off-season progresses, Zastudil also hopes to work on kickoffs and punts with Raven kicker Matt Stover.
Unlike college, where Zastudil and his Bobcat teammates attended classes in addition to fulfilling their gridiron responsibilities, NFL football is a year-round profession.
"It's what we do for a living," Zastudil says. "In college, playing was important, but we were also there to get an education. Here, it's a full-time job. This is all that we do. You can't even have a bad practice, because it may sway what someone thinks of you. You've got to be at the top of your game 100 percent of the time."
Although miles away from his alma mater, Zastudil received support from many friends and former Bobcats last year.
"People talked to my parents, and I got calls from friends and others wishing their best," he says. "I had great support."
Joseph Hughes, BSJ '01 and MSJ '03, writes for Ohio University Communications and Marketing.
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