December 7, 2022
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The Family Business: Will Powers

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Princeton football fans appreciate Will Powers. They root for Will Powers. They just don’t want to see Will Powers play all that often.
 
Don’t worry, he understands.
 
Powers is a two-time All-Ivy League punter for the undefeated and national ranked Princeton Tigers. He is averaging four plays per game this season, or about one play per several hours of practice each week. What he does with those few opportunities, though, is what makes him special.
 
He knows how valuable a strong punter can be to a football team. He knows how valuable a strong punter can be to THIS football team.
 
It runs in the family.
 
• • •
 
When Powers punts this Saturday in a home showdown against Dartmouth, he will do so on Powers Field. That isn’t a coincidence. His father, William (Bill) Powers ’79, was an All-Ivy League punter who made a generous $10.5 million gift to Princeton to fund the FieldTurf playing surface inside Princeton Stadium.
 
Bill Powers played a role in getting his son to Princeton, but it may not be the role you’d expect. The youngest of five siblings, Will said his father never pressured him to choose his alma mater. He provided whatever paternal guidance and advice Will sought out during the process, but the decision always belonged to the son.
 
The father’s more direct impact came years earlier, when his son realized the power in his kick as a soccer defender could translate well to the football field.
 
“When I started punting and kicking in elementary school, he would take me out and we would work on my drop for hours, just trying to perfect that,” he said. “He set a lot of records, and it’s a good competitive relationship. He pushed me because of what he was able to accomplish as a football player. It’s really special to have him give me advice based on what he did.”
 
Will earned Adidas All American honors as a punter at Choate Rosemary Hall, and he spent several weekends playing his own game and then traveling with his father to a Saturday Princeton game. Those trips created his own bond with both the program and the current players, and it was that connection that drove him to choose Princeton.
 
Connection to teammates was critical to Powers. He spent one high school year fully invested in tennis, even traveling to Barcelona to both train and compete. By his sophomore year, he was back on the gridiron.
 
“The individual nature of the sport lacked appeal for me,” Powers said. “Your wins and losses are solely independent, and it honestly got a little lonely. The team aspect of football always stuck with me, and I think that’s what brought me back to it.”
 
And it eventually brought him to a Princeton team that has its sights set on the ultimate goal in 2022.
 
• • • 
 
Most among us have kicked a ball and not thought anything of it. The margins of success for a punter, however, are razor thin and demand both dedication and skill. There are three things Powers focuses on to achieve success at his craft.
 
“The biggest one is being quick,” he said. “We have guys rushing us as fast as they can, particularly off the edge, so you have 2.2 seconds max to get that punt off. Second, the drop is so important. If it’s a millimeter off, I can get away with it. Two to three millimeters, you’re playing with fire. That drop needs to be the same every time to have that high spiral turnover punt. Third would be placement. You don’t want that ball in the middle of the field.”
 
2.2 seconds. 2-3 millimeters. Placement at a particular side of the field. Defenders rushing you. Limited opportunities to do your job, and if you make a mistake, the blame falls squarely on you.
 
Not so simple, right?
 
Yet Powers has been brilliant since he earned the starting job as a freshman. He has averaged 40.9 yards per punt over his career, which would be the second-best career mark in Princeton history. Of his 93 career punts, 28 have pinned teams inside the 20, and 28 have been fair caught. Seventeen have been over 17 yards.
 
The numbers are impressive, but the impact on the team is what matters to him.
 
“You only get a few opportunities per game, so you really have to lock in as a specialist on every single play,” Powers said. “I have 119 other guys around me. While it is an extremely independent position, my team is supportive. I look at my position as trying to help my team, as opposed to trying to hit a long punt. I consider myself part of the defense. I’m trying to pin them back as far as possible to help out the defense.”
 
His impact has been felt and noticed.
 
“Will plays a position that might not get much recognition, but his impact each week has been tremendous,” head coach Bob Surace said. “He not only has consistently flipped field position when we are backed up, but has done an outstanding job pinning opponents deep in their territory.”
 
Powers knows that Surace believes in him, but that doesn’t mean he’ll send him out every fourth down. It’s an interesting dynamic for a punter in an aggressive and successful offense. For all the preparation you put into your role, you know that the better your team is, the more limited your chance to play will be.
 
For instance, if it’s 4th and 1, well, Powers will be ready … but he won’t exactly run out on the field expecting to get the nod from Surace.
 
“4th and 4 is probably a pretty good marker for the gray zone of whether he’ll punt it or not,” Powers said. “Between Ryan Butler and our offensive line, I have a lot of confidence that we can get those yards. I want my team to do well, but I also put so many hours into my craft that I want to go out there and pursue what I love to do. I’m never hoping my team doesn’t get the first down.”
 
“But maybe with a really big lead, I wouldn’t mind another punt,” he added with a grin.
 
Powers, a Public and International Affairs major who is interested in entrepreneurship after his football career ends, has experienced plenty of big leads. He’s also experienced 7-0 records in each of his three seasons as a starter. It’s the 8-0 feeling that has eluded him, and he would love nothing more than to gain that experience this weekend.
 
“We are focusing on taking this one game at a time,” Powers said. “The biggest thing is remaining humble, but confident in why we’re here.”
 

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