Created:Thursday, August 15, 2013 5:30 a.m.CDT

Sure footed

Punter Tyler Wedel practices kicking the ball Friday during a practice at Huskie Stadium. (Monica Maschak –

DeKALB – There probably wasn’t a Northern Illinois player happier than Tyler Wedel when the NCAA moved kickoffs up to the 35-yard line last season.

Wedel, who served as NIU’s kickoff specialist, took advantage of the change, booting 32 touchbacks, which ranked third in the Mid-American Conference. The Huskies finished fourth in the league in kickoff coverage at 41.3 net yards a kick, while Wedel averaged 59 yards a kickoff.

“I love it,” Wedel said of kicking off from the 35. “Just from a mental standpoint, it’s five yards closer, but when you look at it that much closer, you can see it even on NFL games, the kicks are going through the end zone, and I’ll kick them through the end zone, too.

“When the ball’s back at the 30 it seems like it’s a struggle to get to the goal line. It’s a mental thing, you know. It’s a big difference. It’s nice.”

This season, Wedel has additional duties, taking over as NIU’s punter after Ryan Neir handled those duties the past two seasons. Wedel will also take over Neir’s spot as the team’s primary holder on field goals and extra points.

Wedel’s no stranger to punting – he was a Wisconsin all-state selection at McFarland High School near Madison, where he also played quarterback and defensive back in addition to his role as the team’s punter and kicker.

He’s served as NIU’s backup to Neir the past two seasons, but Wedel estimates he gets 10 to 15 more minutes of punting reps in practice now that he’s working with the first team.

Wedel’s punting has seen progression, as you would expect from anyone in their junior year. NIU head coach Rod Carey said the attention to detail has heightened with the added reps.

“He’s three years out of high school right now,” Carey said. “It’s a deal where he’s gotten a lot better.”

Wedel, one of four Huskie true freshmen to letter two years ago, said that with the added reps he’s been getting since the spring, it’s about consistency and getting his steps and drops right.

“I’ve been more consistent. My big [kicks] are probably the same,” Wedel said. “I’ve probably gained another close to five yards but my [hangtime] is what’s been the big difference vs. the past few years.”

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