This story originally appeared in Cal's Kickoff Game Progam on Sept. 15, 2007.
By Tim Miguel, Cal Media Relations
The first time California senior punter Andrew Larson stepped on the field at Memorial Stadium the No. 11 on his jersey may as well have been a question mark. It was an uncertainty how well he would do as the team's new starting punter. He did not enter the program as a highly-recruited freshman. He was a junior-college transfer who had a brief stint in Division I football before joining the Golden Bears. A year later, he has turned the question mark into an exclamation point.
Larson's efforts in 2006 proved that adding him to the team was a wise decision. Last season, he was selected to the All-Pac-10 second team after he led the conference in net punting (38.3) while averaging 42.6 yards per punt (sixth-best in Cal history). Arguably his best game of the year came in the Big Game against Stanford when he averaged 52.7 yards on three punts, including a career-long 72-yarder.
"Being No. 1 in the Pac-10 in net punting was awesome," Larson said. "That comes first before average, because average means nothing if the net is terrible. You always want to set the bar higher and get better. I think I've turned some heads because people had no idea what they were going to get, and they saw that I can do the job and be reliable. I'm here now and people know who I am."
The Mission Viejo native seems to spend more time setting the next goal on his list rather than relishing his current achievements. While Larson said he felt a sense of accomplishment with earning all-conference honors, he's driven to do better. In 2007, he is targeting recognition for the Ray Guy Award as well as first-team All-America status.
Although he has a long list of personal goals that continues to grow, he realizes the most important factor is the success of the team itself.
"I want to put the team in good spots to win games, and if that means not punting in one game, that's awesome," Larson said. "Obviously you don't want to see me out there a lot. It's kind of a bittersweet thing."
It was a long journey for Larson before he became a Bear. He only received one offer to a Division I school out of high school and that was from Wyoming. In his brief time there, he never fit in with the culture or the weather. It did not take long before he knew it was time to return to California.
"Wyoming was interesting to say the least," Larson said. "I went there right out of high school and I didn't know what I was getting myself into weather-wise and culture-wise. The culture is worlds apart. I didn't fit in, but I also got real sick. When it started snowing, I got pneumonia. I decided this wasn't for me, so I went back home and transferred to a junior college."
The move to Saddleback Community College in Mission Viejo rejuvenated his kicking game and he was a two-time All-Mission League selection. He was also named a first-team All-American by JC Athletic Bureau after his sophomore season, in which he averaged 42.6 yards on 49 punts.
After the success he had at Saddleback, Larson has now become an advocate for players going the junior college route. He said the playing experience is much more valuable than sitting below somebody on the depth chart on a Division 1 squad.
Some fans might think the only skills necessary in order to be a good punter are kicking the ball far and getting it to land inside the 20-yard line, but according to Larson, the most difficult part of being a punter is a sequence overlooked most times by the casual observer.
"The hardest part is just catching the ball," Larson said. "With receivers, if they drop a ball here and there, it happens. If the punter drops the ball, that can switch the game around just like that. It can flip the field around with that one drop and can ultimately switch the whole season around. It's under such a big microscope that one little mistake is huge."
For somebody with goals as lofty as Larson, there can only be one desired stop next on his journey when his NCAA career is over. He has his sights set on making it into the NFL and becoming one of the best punters there as well.
"If I make it to the NFL, then I want to be the best in the league," Larson said. "I'm always trying to get a step above something. If it doesn't work out, I'll still have the best degree that the world can offer."