West Virginia football team gets big kick out of punter O'Toole
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Listed at 6-foot-3, 220 pounds, West Virginia junior punter Nick O'Toole could be mistaken for a linebacker.
A balding, grizzled, veteran linebacker.
“I look like I'm 40 years old,” he said to a group of reporters, none of whom argued the point.
He also affirmed a certain stereotype about punters and kickers.
“Everybody says we're quirky and just weird, sometimes,” he said.
Again, no dissent.
Named second-team All-Big 12 last season, O'Toole has achieved perhaps greater notoriety for his sunny, outgoing personality augmented by an impressive handlebar mustache. It is a new variation of what people last year labeled the “Boomstache,” inspired by former WVU and NFL punter Pat McAfee, a Plum native who was known as “Boomstick.”
“I had a baby 'stache last year, and I upgraded it to Rollie Fingers,” O'Toole said, referencing the Hall of Fame relief pitcher known for his well-tended handlebar.
O'Toole, as well, is diligent with mustache maintenance.
“I went through one (wax), and it didn't hold as well as I wanted to,” he said. “There's been some real research that went into this.”
Ditching last season's mullet, O'Toole buzz cut what's left of his hair, exposing a scar that traverses the top of his head from ear to ear. He makes no effort to hide it. When he was younger, he said, he told people it came from a shark bite. They not only believed it, “they thought it was awesome.”
O'Toole was born with a condition called craniosyostosis. The soft spot in his skull closed prematurely, preventing the skull from expanding with his brain. At 4 months old, part of his skull was removed. All went well, although “there's probably some brain missing,” he said, laughing.
Special teams coach Joe DeForest said O'Toole's coach at Fullerton (Junior) College, Tim Byrnes, told him, “He will be the favorite guy on your team. He'll make everyone laugh. Everyone will follow him. And you will recognize what kind of work ethic he has, in the weight room and on the field.”
All true, DeForest said.
“He's a great team guy,” he said. “He's what you want in a player.”
O'Toole's 73 punts averaged 44.1 yards, second in the conference and 15th nationally. He had 26 punts of 50 yards or more, and 22 inside the opponent's 20-yard line.
“Yeah, I had a great season, but I always want to improve on something, whether it's directional kicking or inside the 20,” he said.
Or dealing with the wind, mainly how it can play havoc with his drops.
“It's a lot of luck, and a lot of practice,” he said.
After making the most of the heavy workload brought on by WVU's 4-8 record, O'Toole was part of the Mountaineers' contingent at Big 12 media days in Dallas last month. He said he was “ecstatic” about the invite.
“All the press and nice meals you get, I thought that would never happen to a kicker or punter,” he said.
Seizing the moment, he showed up wearing red socks emblazoned with “USA,” which he prominently displayed.
“I thought they'd be a great hit,” he said. “What's better than USA socks?”
No one had an answer.
Bob Cohn is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at email@example.com.