NORMAN — Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops views punter Tress Way as a difference maker, capable of “flipping the field,” turning around bad field position for the defense.
Way finished third in the country his freshman year. Last season, the average dipped slightly, and he ranked 21st.
This season, he hopes to be a Ray Guy Award finalist. He believes it's a realistic goal, thanks to a tip from a teammate's father.
Last spring, Mike Winchester, a former OU punter, father of deep snapper James Winchester, suggested Way compare film to his freshman year.
“Oh my gosh, it was night and day,” Way said. “It was awful. My mechanics were horrible. I was swinging completely across my body. It's kind of if you watched me do a kickoff, it was the same swing. Even the (punts) I hit good I was pulling right.”
After working six months on his mechanics, Way is back on track. In fall camp, Stoops said Way has hit more 70-yard punts than 50-yarders.
But Way always is capable of booming a long one. Last season, the issue was inconsistency.
Way's average (44.0 yards per punt) was solid. But he had 18 punts under 40 yards.
In the Big 12 title game, Way shanked one midway through the fourth quarter to give Nebraska good field position. OU's defense bailed him out.
In a loss at Texas A&M, Way averaged 34.6 yards on five punts. He had punts of 27, 25 and 27 yards.
Way also had a season worst 17-yard punt against Texas.
“It's always fun when you silence the crowd with a 65- or 70-yarder,” Way said. “But the key is consistency. I know it's where you are on the field as to how far you can kick it. But I know I have the ability to hit the ball 47 to 48 yards every time.”
Like many kickers, Way has to resist the temptation that every punt needs to be a tape measure kick.
“It's like when you're in a home run derby,” Way said. “You're not really focusing on getting a base hit, you're focusing everything on crushing it. When you do that, your mechanics can go out the window."
One advantage this season is Patrick O'Hara will handle kickoffs. Part of Way's bad habits stemmed from trying to swing his leg across his body to lengthen kickoffs.
“Patrick O'Hara is just crushing the ball,” Way said. “The other day, he hit an 84-yard kickoff, four yards out of the back of the end zone. And it wasn't that windy. He literally has the strongest leg I've ever seen. I'm fine with just focusing on punting.”
Way also is tweaking his release time. He didn't have a punt blocked last season but wants to get punts off a half second earlier.
“That makes a huge difference, especially against those really fast guys,” Way said. “It's always nice if that's not a threat so you don't have to worry about it getting blocked.”
Way is encouraged with his progress. Kicker Jimmy Stevens and his kicking buddies said the Tulsa Union product is kicking as well as any time in his career.
The goal is to be in Orlando in January, when the Ray Guy Award winner is announced.
"I know I'm capable of it," Way said. "Last year, I averaged 44, but I was disappointed. I didn't hit the ball as well as I should have.
“This camp, I didn't have a bad day, knock on wood. I watch film every day just to see. I'm happy with the way I've been hitting the ball. It's nice to have things in line for that first game.”