Former Ohio State punter Andy Groom was a first-team All-American selection in 2002 when the Buckeyes captured the national championship.
He averaged 45 yards per punt in both 2001 and ’02 and it seemed pretty obvious that he had a long NFL career ahead of him.
However, it hasn’t exactly worked out according to plan.
After graduating from OSU in spring of 2003, Groom signed a free agent contract with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers – who were fresh off a Super Bowl championship.
There were only two punters in the Bucs’ camp. Groom, and some guy named Tom Tupa.
Tupa graduated from Ohio State in 1988 and was a third round draft pick by the Phoenix Cardinals. Entering 2003, he had 16 years under his belt as an NFL punter and was one of the best in the league with a 43.5 career average.
Groom knew it would be very difficult unseating Tupa, and it was. Groom was cut and was forced to wait until the next season.
So, in 2004, after studying all the NFL rosters, he decided that San Francisco was the best place for him. The 49ers needed a punter, they targeted Groom and he signed a free agent contract with them.
However, once again, things did not work out for the former Buckeye.
“They ended up drafting a punter in the sixth round (Andy Lee from Pittsburgh), so, it was his job,” Groom said.
Groom has been the victim of bad luck thus far in his NFL career. Once he gets his punting foot in the door, he’ll likely stick in the league for a while. But he just needs one good opportunity.
“I’ve just been in two bad situations,” Groom said. “The first one, going up against Tom, he was coming off of hernia surgery and I was pretty much insurance in case he didn’t recover. Tom is a great guy and I hope he continues it. He was great to me, but I was basically insurance there.
“Then, San Francisco came on last year and (general manager) Terry Donahue told me they weren’t going to draft anybody and they weren’t going to go after a veteran. But after I signed with them, they went after a veteran in the beginning, and after they didn’t get the veteran, they drafted somebody. So, I’ve just been in two bad situations.”
A lot of times, NFL kickers and punters will get cut in training camp, but will still have time to catch on somewhere else. In 2003, the Carolina Panthers cut kicker Shayne Graham, who signed with the Cincinnati Bengals the final week of the preseason and won the job.
However, the 49ers cut Groom too late to find another job.
“Well, I got cut the last game of the preseason, so, it was too late to hook on with another team,” he said. “And it wasn’t really a competition in camp with them. They gave (Lee) all the punts. He had 24 punts in the preseason and I had four. He’s another good dude, but I didn’t feel I was given a shot to win the job.”
Lee ended up averaging 41.6 yards per punt for the Niners in 2004. Chances are good that Groom would have done just as good, or better, but it wasn’t meant to be.
So, here is Groom in the same situation he was in two years ago. He is scanning NFL rosters, looking for the right fit. The next step for him is to show what he can do in NFL Europe.
“I’m talking to a few NFL teams right now, but I’m probably going to end up in Europe starting Feb. 28,” Groom said.
Groom is not sure which NFL Europe team he will be playing for.
“No, we have a little three day camp in Tampa Bay and from there one of the teams picks you up,” he said. “There’s six teams in the league.”
Groom has reached the end of the line. If he doesn’t realize his NFL dream in 2005, then it will be time to find a real job.
“I think this is going to be my last year,” he said. “I’m getting sick of it. It’s either make the NFL next season, or I’m done.”
Of course, knowing the way Groom rises to the occasion, he could go to NFL Europe, put on a punting clinic, and have NFL teams lining up to sign him.
“Yeah, that would be nice,” he said. “But I know how it is. Every team wants a guy with a lot of experience and the only way to get that is go to Europe or go to Canada, because they’re not going to put a rookie in there unless he’s a draft pick.”
No NFL team will have Groom’s rights while he’s playing in Europe. Since he won’t be the property of any NFL team, he can sign with anyone heading into training camp.
“A lot of times an NFL team will send you to Europe and I have three teams interested in me right now,” Groom said. “But, I might be going over there by myself just so if I do have a good season over there, weigh my options of which team I should sign with afterwards and go to the NFL camp with. I’ll know more in the next week.”
Groom does not have a personal trainer. He was working out at OSU’s Woody Hayes Athletic Center on Monday.
“No, I used to work out near my place in Columbus, but I came back here a couple weeks ago just because there’s more equipment and I can punt inside when it’s too bad outside,” he said.
Groom didn’t have many flaws while he was at OSU, but he continues to find ways to improve his game. Hang time is the one area he thinks he needs some improvement.
“Hang time, major,” he said. “In college, I could have done the hang time thing, but when a guy is lined up 40 yards away from you, why not line a 4.4, 60-yarder past them? They have to run back and try and catch it. But in the pros, they want more of a 40-yard ball with a 4.5 hang. I can do that. I just went another direction in college.”