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Front Page - Friday, October 28, 2022

Tennessee’s Brooks working to refine science of punting

Tennessee senior punter/kickoff specialist Paxton Brooks is pursuing a kinesiology-biomechanics master’s degree while trying to define and improve the mechanics of punting. - Tennessee Athletics/UTsports.com

Many athletes profess to be students of the game. It’s true for University of Tennessee punter/kickoff specialist Paxton Brooks on many levels.

Not only is Brooks devoted to improving his craft on the field, he’s also using his academic research to help enhance the performance of other kickers.

The fifth-year senior is pursuing a master’s degree in kinesiology-biomechanics and is working on a project that studies kicking.

His goal is to create a “kicking lab” of sorts in which players of all levels can use individualized data to find the most efficient technique.

“It’s about putting quantity to things. It’s not just a kicking coach looking at video and telling you what you did wrong,” Brooks says. “It’s about seeing numbers on angles and foot velocity and other things that you can coach beyond just film.”

Given the aggressive nature of a Tennessee offense, which prefers scoring points to winning field position battles, Brooks hasn’t been able to generate much data of his own punting during games this season.

The redshirt senior has punted a total of 14 times in UT’s seven games this season, with an average of 40.07 yards and a long of 49. His teammates often joke with him during the week about how they won’t need him to display his hang time or pin opponents inside their own 20.

“That is great. I am fine with that if y’all don’t want me to punt,” Brooks says. “We all try to have fun with it. It’s become a goal of our offense, so it’s been good.”

But Brooks’ leg still gets a good workout since he kicks off after every Vols touchdown or field goal. Tennessee leads the country in scoring offense (50.1 points per game).

“I am not necessarily standing on the sideline the whole game not doing anything. I am getting action in other areas,” says Brooks, who is also the holder on field goals. “I may not get as many points, but obviously team goals are way more important than any individual outcomes that I would have for punting.”

Leg up in classroom

Brooks’ acumen in the classroom gives him another leg up on the competition.

Earlier this season, he was named a semifinalist for the William V. Campbell Trophy, considered college football’s premier scholar-athlete award. He earned first-team CoSIDA Academic All-America honors following the 2021 season, becoming UT’s first player to achieve the honor since Mike Terry in 1982.

Before he graduated with a degree in kinesiology in 2021 while maintaining a 3.92 GPA, Brooks approached Joshua Weinhandl, an associate professor in biomechanics at UT, about pursuing his master’s degree in biomechanics.

“He is just a joy to work with,” Weinhandl says. “Coming from an athletic background, I love working with athletes. But it’s even more enjoyable when the athletes that you are working with are not only just passionate about their sport and craft, but also the biomechanics and science behind their sport and craft.”

Brooks has utilized the Vols to help with two of his master’s program projects.

For a class in computer programming, he wanted to find a way to more efficiently analyze data the Vols collect from the Catapult GPS devices they wear during practices and games.

Brooks sat down with members of the football staff to find out what numbers they used most. He created a program to make the process less painstaking by producing a summary tailored to their needs.

“He has really been focused on wearable technology,” says Weinhandl. “As athletes are performing, we get thousands of data points. If the athlete wears it for an entire practice and game, it’s tens of thousands. It can be overwhelming to try and sort through all that on an Excel spreadsheet and find meaning.”

In an ongoing project, Brooks gathered all the UT kickers to record the impact of plant leg force and acceleration in three different modes of kicking: kickoff, field goal and punting. Brooks placed sensors on them all and had them kick on both the indoor artificial turf and the outdoor natural grass field at the Anderson Training Facility.

“It is definitely something that could be a service with kickers at all levels,” Weinhandl says. “Not only to improve performance with proper technique and fundamentals, but also reduce loading and therefore risk of injury.”

Tapping into a legacy

Brooks, a three-star prospect out of Airport High School and Lexington, South Carolina, started kicking in the eighth grade. He began with field goals and expanded to every type of kick by high school.

“As I got older, I kind of realized I was built more for punting, and when I was going to camps and seeing how I stacked up against other guys in the country, punting is where I really shined,” the 6-foot-6 Brooks says. “I felt like punting played more toward my strengths and I could be more consistent with that.”

Once he arrived at UT, Brooks became better acquainted with the strong lineage of UT punters. He has developed a relationship with some of them, including brothers Britton and Dustin Colquitt.

“He cares a lot about what he does and he asks a lot of questions. The people who ask questions and who are really trying to get better are some of the smartest and the best at what they do,” says Britton Colquitt, who is currently an NFL free agent. “He is constantly trying to figure out how he can work out the answers and put those into motion to make him a better punter.”

Colquitt is intrigued by Brooks’ interest in biomechanics. Although it’s been utilized frequently in golf, baseball and softball to analyze swings, Colquitt hasn’t seen it applied as much to kicking.

“I think that is something that really hasn’t been tapped into that much yet,” Colquitt says. “I think if he is going to go that route, it is definitely something that can help the punting world and kicking world.”

Before Brooks begins focusing on the future, he wants to enjoy the renaissance the No. 3 Vols (7-0, 3-0 SEC) have engineered this season after so many years of struggle.

They are squarely in the College Football Playoff race as they prepare to host Kentucky Saturday night in Neyland Stadium.

“I am just enjoying my last year here and trying to soak everything in while I can,” Brooks says. “I am very grateful to be having so much fun with a bunch of guys who just enjoy playing football together.”