Most football players measure success by the yard. Not Jordan Dascalo.
For Eastern Washington’s senior punter, games are won and lost in fractions of a second.
First comes the ball, rocketing from long snapper Curtis Billen. The elapsed time from Billen’s hands to Dascalo’s: seven-tenths of a second.
That gives Dascalo barely a second to drop the ball to his foot and let fly. Any longer and the would-be punt-blockers would be in his face.
The rush of adrenaline spikes again as the ball reaches its apex.
“It’s all about hang time,” said Dascalo, who’s always hoping for 5 seconds of hang time. “I want to make that guy fair catch. I want to make that guy mad.”
Dascalo’s stats back him up. His 40.1-yard average ranks only eighth in the Big Sky Conference, but opponents are averaging less than 1 yard on 17 returns.
“When (the returner) throws that hand up, that’s a great feeling,” said Dascalo, who’s had more than a few of them in three seasons at Eastern.
Transferring from Washington State before the 2015 season, Dascalo had done a little of everything for the Eagles, including kickoffs and placement kicks. Midway through that season, he drilled a 44-yarder as time expired to give Eastern a memorable 43-41 win at Northern Colorado.
Dascalo got an even bigger kick in the 2016 opener at Washington State.
He was recruited to Pullman as a walk-on by a promise from then-special teams coach Eric Russell: Make the starting lineup and you’ll get a scholarship.
Dascalo held up his end of the bargain, averaging 41.6 yards a punt to rank sixth in the Pac-12. But his position coach, Eric Russell, was fired in midseason and the scholarship offer never materialized.
“That was going to be tough on my family, so I had to move on,” said Dascalo, who connected with then- EWU coach Beau Baldwin, got the financial help he needed and started every game that year.
The next year, Dascalo was a key player in the Eagles’ 45-42 upset win over his old school. He averaged 55.3 yards on three punts and hit a 48-yard field goal on the final play of the first half to earn Big Sky Conference Special Teams Player of the Week honors.
At Eastern, Dascalo has been a triple-threat – punting, kicking off and handling field goals and extra points.
“I’m pretty sure that at WSU, they wouldn’t give me the opportunity to do all three,” Dascalo said. “The experience here has been everything I could want – with the staff here, I feel like they’re really my family.”
In the extended family known as a football team, special-team players are sometimes the distant cousins. Most practices are dominated by scrimmage plays, leaving Dascalo and his mates fending for themselves.
Unlike larger schools, Eastern has only one turf practice field. That’s a bit limiting for the Eagles’ special-teams players, but Dascalo sees only the bright side.
“I have to really work on not hitting any players or coaches during practice, so I really have to pinpoint my punts,” Dascalo said.
Another challenge is the wind in Cheney.
“Against the wind, you really have to focus on your technique,” said Dascalo, who often rolls out, Australian-style, to deliver a ball with a lower trajectory.
That style also comes in handy when the Eagles are punting from midfield. Dascalo tries to kick the ball end-over-end, increasing the chances that it will stay close to the landing point and not roll into the end zone for a touchback.
And contrary to what fans might thing, having the wind at your back can be a curse.
“You have to be careful,” Dascalo said. “If the wind carries it too far, you might outkick your coverage.”
Attention to detail has carried Dascalo a long way, and he’s not done. His aspirations are as high aspirations, as high as the flight of the ball after he gives it a big kick.
“A year from now, I want to be a punter in the NFL,” said Dascalo.
To further that ambition, he and Billen work every summer in San Diego at a kicking camp run by former Chargers kicker John Carney.
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