Say this for Alex Kinney's collegiate football debut — it definitely will be a moment he will always remember.
The Colorado native was booming punts for Rocky Mountain High in Fort Collins just a year ago, and on Sept. 3 he fulfilled a lifelong dream by stepping on the field at Hawaii to launch his first punt for the Colorado Buffaloes.
What occurred next probably still roils the stomachs of many Buffs fans. Kinney's first attempt was blocked, leading to an opening Hawaii touchdown in a loss that remains the harshest blight on CU's 2015 resume. Yet to say Kinney has settled in would be an understatement, and his continued poise and efficiency could prove to be a critical element in any hopes of a CU upset Saturday at home against No. 9 Stanford (11 a.m., Pac-12 Networks).
"You just try not to think about that," Kinney said of his disastrous debut. "The most important kick is the next one. Coach (Toby) Neinas always says that. I've really taken that to heart. If you have a bad kick, you just have to make it up on the next one."
Although he had another punt blocked at Arizona State, leading to a field goal in a 48-23 CU defeat, Kinney has nonetheless morphed from a legitimate question mark to a reliable asset over the past two months.
Kinney has averaged 39.9 yards on 50 attempts, with an average net of 38.3. He booted a season-long punt of 58 yards in CU's win at Oregon State two weeks ago, and he has placed 18 attempts inside the 20-yard line. That mark includes six inside the 10, and a solid 78 percent of Kinney's punts have not been returned.
Given the sometimes shaky protection in front of him, it is commendable that Kinney has found a better comfort zone that has, in turn, led to more consistent production.
"I'm probably just more relaxed," Kinney said. "Before I was uptight and I just wasn't comfortable out there. I feel I'm a lot more relaxed and comfortable with everyone and everything out there.
"You go from high school, where you have a couple thousand (fans), maybe two thousand if that, to 30,000-40,000. It's a big difference. I just wasn't comfortable with it but I think I've really settled in."
After facing several teams that enjoy pushing the pace, the Buffs are gearing up for a Stanford team that attempts to dictate the tone at a more deliberate pace. Getting a few well-executed boots from Kinney might force the Cardinal into executing their vaunted ground game via long drives.
"(Kinney) is getting better and better, which is what you want from a young player," Neinas said. "You know there are going to be ups and downs with a freshman, and we still have quite a ways to go. But I think we're steadily improving there, which is helping us with field position. Which will be huge this week, because (Stanford) want to shrink the game. It will be a big field-position game."
CU receiver Nelson Spruce was named to the CoSIDA Academic All-District team on Thursday.