BOZEMAN, Montana — Being at your best when your best is needed in pressure situations: it’s one of the truest marks of being a great athlete.
Jered Padmos has shown his underlying athleticism, something not usually assumed in a punter, both on and off the football field during his four years at Montana State. He played wide receiver for a spring and has happily filled in as a scout team wideout when MSU needs him. In the summers, he works at Bridger Creek Golf Course in Bozeman and has shot many rounds in the low 70s when he’s not helping customers in the clubhouse.
But it’s been Padmos’ ability to come up in the clutch late in games and late in seasons that has impressed MSU head coach Jeff Choate the most.
“The thing I always respect about Jered and I hope this continues is that he has been at his best at the end of the year each one of his four years here as our starting punter,” Choate said earlier this month. “In big games, he has come up big for us. That’s the thing I will remember the most is that he’s a clutch player. Sometimes, we didn’t’ have to have that but when we have needed him the most, he has been at his best.”
Until last year’s run to the playoffs, Montana State played no bigger game than its season-ending finale against archrival Montana. And Padmos, a native of Boulder, Montana, has risen to the occasion on the Treasure State’s biggest stage three years in a row.
In 2016 with a previously reeling Bobcat team searching for an upset, Padmos flipped the field on four occasions with punts to stick the Grizzlies in their own territory. He caused UM standout Jerry Louie-McGee to call for three fair catches, rolled a punt to the Griz 14 and, with MSU backed up to its own 10 late in the fourth quarter clinging to a 24-17 lead, bombed a 50-yard kick that put Montana 65 yards away from the end-zone.
In 2017, Padmos stuck the Griz inside their own 20 twice in the first half, gave his punt coverage team time to chase down Louie-McGee in the middle part of the game and, with MSU up 24-13 late in the third quarter, pinned Montana at its own two-yard line. Padmos would stick two more punts inside the Griz 20 in the fourth quarter to help Montana State sew up a 31-23 victory, the first by the Bobcats in Bozeman since 2005.
Last year in Missoula, Padmos had his best rivalry performance yet. He punted seven times, averaging 43 yards, pinning the Griz inside the 20 four times including a 66-yard punt. The Bobcats downed one punt on the Griz 3-yard line and two more inside the Montana 2.
“It’s one of the biggest games of the year so it’s the best time to perform,” Padmos said. “In my family, we always looked forward to Cat-Griz. I’ve had season tickets to the ‘Cats since I was in fourth grade so it’s something that has been a big part of our family so to be able to perform in that game is important.”
On Saturday, Montana State will host Montana in the 119th rendition of one of the fiercest rivalries in college football. It also serves as the final game for Padmos and seven other Treasure State natives who have been a part of MSU’s first three-game winning streak in the rivalry in more than 30 years.
Senior captain strong safety Brayden Konkol has played a few of his best career games against the Grizzlies. Senior linebacker Josh Hill has come back from a devastating back injury to get one last crack at the rival.
Senior defensive end Marcus Ferriter has been a proud representative of Butte for four years in the rivalry. Senior inside linebacker Walker Cozzie feels the same way about representing for Helena Capital.
Senior captain left tackle Mitch Brott has been the bulldozing book end that has helped the Bobcats run the ball with authority the last three years. Senior defensive linemen Derek Marks will live in the history of the rivalry forever after recovering a fumble on the goal line with eight seconds left to sew up last season’s 29-25 victory. And senior running back Logan Jones called the touchdown he scored last year to help MSU rally from a 22-point deficit the highlight of his career so far.
Padmos might not have the same fame but he has certainly played as pivotal a role during MSU’s run to three straight state titles.
“He has been a real weapon for us for four years and particularly late in the season,” MSU special teams coordinator B.J. Robertson said.
“It seems like toward the end of each of his seasons, he really hits his stride. We are expecting that again this season.”
This season overall, Padmos is averaging 45 yards per punt, a career high. He has given up around two yards per return for the fourth straight season, bringing his career total to 477 return yards allowed on 230 career punts for a career average of 2.1 yards per.
The humble, friendly senior is quick to deflect credit, instead passing it on to his punt coverage teammates, particularly “gunners” like Jones, Ty Okada and James Campbell along with other special teams stalwarts like Callahan O’Reilly.
“Our punt team is so critical for me,” Padmos said. “I put the punt in a position and let my guys go get it. We are able to eliminate returns because my gunners are so fast and they run so well. I can put the ball into a place and I know a returner won’t want to go after the ball.”
He also acknowledges his long snappers, Rocky Hogue and Logan McDonald, making an accurate punt when he says, “One of the biggest compliments you can give a snapper is if you never call their name.” In recent weeks, defensive end Kyle Finch has also stepped in as the MSU long snapper.
When Robertson knows Montana State is getting close to punting, he asks himself an array of questions.
“What’s the wind doing?
“Are we going with the wind, are we trying to cut the punt with through the wind?
“Who’s the returner?
“Is it somebody we feel we can contain or is it a returner at all costs we want to keep the ball away from?
“ Where are we on the field? Do we want to back them up or is it a pin situation?
Regardless of the question, the answer is always Padmos.
“There’s a lot of little factors that go into it but at the end of the day, it’s about where does Jered feel comfortable,” Robertson said in August. “And when he’s comfortable, he puts the ball literally wherever he wants.”
Padmos is far from orthodox. He has made a career of mastering rugby-style punting. Entering his sophomore season at MSU, he tried to become a “more traditional punter”.
But Choate, himself a renowned special teams coach, brought Padmos into his office and told Padmos “to go back to my roots.”
The rolling rugby style originated when Padmos’ high school coach learned the style at an all-star game. Padmos had previously played soccer (along with golf, basketball, track and football growing up in the small Montana town) so the “drop” it takes to rugby punt and the angles of the punter’s foot came to him easily.
“There’s the traditional style and there’s the roll-out style,” Padmos said last month. “The traditional style is basically the walk straight, swing straight, get it to go into the power zone and fade right and turn over the ball. The roll out, you can do a couple of different drops. We do the roll drop and the spin on the rollout to swing across the ball and get it to do the turnover as well.
“It’s all about repetition. I go out there and try to hit the ball every time. The practice that has gone into it in the summer and the fall, we do trash can drills, line drills, try to hit the same spot every time.”
Although the style is not completely uncommon for college football, the level at which Padmos has managed rugby punting is elite. He can drop the ball from several different angles, kicking the ball off of different parts of his foot, sending spirals screaming through the air or punting the ball with the nose-diving at the turf. He has a variety of “drops” to initiate the action and his unusual skill keeps returners guessing.
“I really don’t think he gets enough credit,” Choate said. “In terms of fulfilling his specific role, he is one of the most consistently players we have had.”
Padmos earned second-team All-Big Sky honors as a sophomore in 2017 when he led the league in net punting. Last season, despite allowing just 2.1 yards per return on 66 punts, he was ignored in the all-conference voting.
In August four punters from the Big Sky Conference were named to the FCS Punter of the Year preseason watch list. Padmos was not one of them. But he is likely in line for All-Big Sky honors as a senior.
“He’s a steady guy who is going to put in the time and the work and that you can trust,” Robertson said. “He knows what Coach wants out of the punt game and he works his craft, puts in a lot of time.”
Accolades aside, the elementary education major — he wants to teach and coach in middle school or high school — is trying to enjoy his last ride with the Bobcats. Montana State enters Saturday’s showdown with an 8-3 mark that is likely already good enough to punch a second straight ticket to the FCS playoffs.
And if Padmos has anything to do wit hit, Montana State will roll into the playoffs for the second straight season on a November winning streak that coincides with a fourth straight win over the fierce rival.
“It’s a big game, maybe the biggest game, so to be able to say you have a hand in helping to win three and hopefully four, that would be huge for me and huge for us,” Padmos said. “We look forward to this game all year so now it’s time to perform.”