Justin DuVernois: Booting his way into history

By Sean Neumann

When Justin DuVernois takes the field, it’s usually a bad sign for the Illini offense. But good things happen when the Illinois punter trots out to kick the ball away.

DuVernois has been one of the few bright spots for the Illini this season, leading the Big Ten with an average of 45.7 yards per punt — a career best that is on pace to be the best season by a punter in Illinois’ history.

“You’re roughly guaranteed a 40-yard punt,” special teams coordinator Tim Salem said. “He’s had good distance, good hang, good direction: three things you definitely want to see.”

The senior has had 16 punts longer than 50 yards this season, including five longer than 60 yards and a season-best of 74 yards.

“I told him to act like the best punter in America at the start of the football season and if you’re not the best punter in America, act like you’re the best punter in America,” Salem said. “I think he’s kind of taken that and run with it.”

And DuVernois has been one of the best punters in America. 

He’s ranked ninth in average yards per punt (45.7) and has had the third-longest punt in the nation so far this year (74 yards). Out of punters who have kicked the ball away more than 50 times this season, DuVernois is ranked second in the nation.

Salem said punting is a specialty and DuVernois has excelled in his specific role on the team, earning himself Big Ten Special Teams Player of the Week twice in the past two years.

“It can be hard,” Salem said. “To stay focused from warmups all the way through the game’s end — which you’re talking about four and a half hours — to stay loose and to stay ready is hard.”

DuVernois’ punting has been a major asset for the Illini defense in particular.

“(DuVernois) is a great weapon,” defensive coordinator Tim Banks said. “You know when he punts it, we’re going to have a chance to win the field position challenge. When we pin them, we just have to do a good job of keeping them down there — because if we can flip the field, it gives our offense a chance to score with a little bit more ease.”

The senior has pinned opposing offenses inside their own 20-yard line 12 times this season, including seven punts that were downed inside the 10.

Illinois linebacker Mason Monheim said one of the biggest things being overlooked in regards to Illinois this season has been DuVernois’ performance.

“It’s huge in a game,” Monheim said. “Turning the field, putting them in tough situations and making them have to drive 90 yards is huge.”

While it’s a bad sign for the Illini offense when DuVernois boots the ball away to the other team, the senior has been one of the best punters in program history during his time at Illinois.

Sean can be reached at [email protected] and on Twitter @neumannthehuman.