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Pro Football: Schum’s drive gets punter NFL contract with Browns

Frontier High graduate Jake Schum, seen here punting for UB, was signed by the Cleveland Browns after a year of working hard training as a free agent. (Photo courtesy of “Get Jake Schum to the NFL” Facebook page)
Jake Schum was getting a little frustrated with the blank stares he’d get directed back at him after telling people his goal as a professional.

For the longest time, the Hamburg native wanted to play in the National Football League and for the better part of the past decade, he’s been preparing to do so.

Schum may not have been highly recruited out of Frontier High School, but he used Buffalo State College as a stepping stone to play Division I at the University at Buffalo, where he spent the better part of two seasons as the starting punter.

Schum also may not have been a sought-after pro prospect coming out of UB, but after going without being drafted or being asked to tryout at a NFL camp last season, he took the year off to make himself a better punter and more appealing to scouts at the next level.

He’s always been a believer in himself; it was just making others believe that was keeping Schum from his ultimate dream. But after a nearly flawless performance at a punting and kicking combine in Phoenix, that is no longer an issue.

The Cleveland Browns signed the 5-foot-10, 210-pound Schum as a free agent punter, the club announced Thursday (March 28) evening. It appears the Frontier High School graduate will be competing for the starting job after the Browns did not resign free agent Reggie Hodges, who spent the past three seasons punting for the team.

Now, when the 24-year-old tells people about his dream, their reaction may be a little different as it’s closer than ever to becoming a reality.

“This is unreal; I keep pinching myself — it’s crazy to be able to say that I’m an actual NFL punter,” Schum said. “Explaining what I’m trying to do to people, you get that dear in the headlights look back from them. To finally say that I did it is remarkable.”

After working for more than a year with Sam Watts, a kicking and punting specialist who runs the Special Teams Academy out of the Buffalo-area, Schum fared well in three recent tryouts with NFL scouts in attendance.

He hit the ball well early last month in an event in New Jersey and then a few days later, enjoyed another fine performance back in the area for UB’s Pro Day on March 5, but it wasn’t until Coach Zauner’s College Senior Specialist’s Kicking Combine on March 26 in Arizona that he became a can’t-miss prospect for a pro team.

“In Phoenix, he was the best punter there,” Watts said. “The Browns and Arizona Cardinals approached him, but the Browns basically said they’re not going to let anyone take him.”

Schum was in a zone, not worrying about any other punters beside himself. He got the balls off quickly, booming spirals 45 to 50 yards with hang times around 4.9 to 5.0 seconds, some over 5.1. Punting the ball 13 times, he was also precise on his directional kicks and landed the ball on the one-yard-line and twice between the four and six on the punting inside-the-20 drill.

Just a few hours later, he received a call from the Browns confirming that he was atop the team’s priority list of punters, and then was contacted by his agent Steve Christie indicating Schum would be going to Cleveland. It was all confirmed shortly after by a conversation with Browns’ general manager Mike Lombardi, who flew Schum out to sign a contract.

“It’s been my dream, so nothing was going to stop me,” said Schum, who at UB’s Pro Day, hit about 30 to 40 punts for what seemed to be an impressed representative from the Buffalo Bills. “It’s been a crazy roller coaster ride to get here. If you have a dream, you can’t give up; you just have to come back harder and stronger. If I wouldn’t have failed, I wouldn’t have been where I am now.”

There were difficult times, like when his phone did not ring during the draft or afterward leading up to NFL camps, but Schum stuck with it and gained confidence through continuing to work with Watts.

“I sat down, looked in the mirror, thought about my career and asked, ‘what do I have to do now,’” Schum said. “I put that much more work into it. I looked at the weakest parts of my punting and I got to the point where I became more confident and consistent. Without Sam, I wouldn’t be here.”

With Watts, he trained not so much to punt the ball further but higher. By working on defining specific techniques, Schum began hitting the ball more perfect and the hang times of his kicks consistently went up.

It took breaking down the film of his punts to change some of the little things, such as steps and arm placement, that impeded breaking through to the next level. Watts also worked on increasing Schum’s strength while not compromising his flexibility, an important trait for a kicker.

In between, Schum practiced punting wherever and whenever he could, even if that meant taking a shovel to the snow on the field at Hamburg High School in the middle of the winter to clear a small path where he could train.

Schum first came to Watts after spending two seasons at UB (2010-11), where he booted 119 career punts for 38.7 average, while landing 24 inside the 20-yard line. He transferred to Buffalo after spending the 2007 season at Buffalo State College. Watts has also worked with Grand Island native Brett Kearns, who has punted the past three seasons with the Tennessee Titans.

“This has been a lot of fun for me, too, and I’m very proud of Jake,” Watts said. “There’s been other young men that I’ve guided through their younger years like Brett, but Jake is a homegrown kid who didn’t start with me until after college.”

Schum has also been helping work with younger kickers throughout the last month as Watts prepares many of them for the Northeast Regional Showcase for kickers, punters and snappers from the Northeast U.S. and Canada on Sunday, April 14 at the Buffalo Bills Fieldhouse in Orchard Park. The event is open to interested youth, who can find out more information at coachwatts.com.

Schum will probably be unable to attend that showcase, because he’ll be occupied by his new gig. The day after Easter, he left for Cleveland for offseason training, which includes four days a week of lifting, conditioning and kicking inside the Browns’ facility. The team will break early in the summertime before returning for training camp in July.

“I feel not so much nerves — because this is what I’ve been training and preparing for the last 10 years, for the most part it just feels so unreal,” said Schum, who has a Facebook page dedicated to his plight, titled “Get Jake Schum to the NFL,” which was started on Jan. 28.

It just wouldn’t have been a success story for Schum if there weren’t some tribulations in between. Along with him for this roller coaster ride has not only been Watts, but supportive parents, Alan and Charlene, and brother, Bill, and sister, Rachel.

“It’s been a heck of a journey,” Schum said. “I’ve said before that I was planning to write a book and eventually, I really am. But for now, I’m just overwhelmed with joy.”

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