A Strong Leg Up

April 27, 2007
Daniel Sepulveda

Daniel Sepulveda has silenced stadiums. After the hard thump of a Sepulveda punt, fans of both the visiting team and the Baylor Bears have stood in hushed admiration to see the football soar 50 to 60 yards. And on occassion, that silence has exploded into cheers as Sepulveda has tackled the receiver of his own punt.
'Yet his success in punting surprised him. 
When he walked on to Baylor's team to play as a linebacker in 2002, he had not punted since junior high. At that moment, he could not have dreamed that he would eventually win the Ray Guy Award for the year's best collegiate punter in 2004 and 2006, and become the only two-time winner in collegiate football history. Nor could he have expected to earn All-American honors three consecutive times, joining Baylor's Pro Football Hall of Fame-player Mike Singletary, the only other Baylor player to be so recognized. And never mind the grades that earned him academic All-Big 12 honors for four consecutive years.
"I really had no idea what I was doing," says Sepulveda, BS '06, of his first punting experiences. "I wasn't thinking of the NFL or anything. I was just trying to help the team at that point."
"When you are that successful, and you attract the attention that Danny did, you have to carry yourself well, and I think in that regard he did a great job for Baylor," says former special teams coach Mark Nelson, now at the University of Louisville. "Everything Baylor stands for, Danny stands for: he is an honest person, a hard worker and a Christian. He's brought a lot of good recognition to the school."

Humble leadership
Odessa senior Ryan Havens, who was on special teams with Sepulveda as place-kicker, says Sepulveda helped with more than athletics when he walked on to the team. "From the first time you met him you could tell he was a good Christian guy with good morals. He displayed his leadership not just by talking, but by doing the right thing."
The punter's humble leadership made him "quiet, yet outgoing," Havens says. "If he sees someone down, he'll go see what's wrong and try to help them out. He keeps to himself, but he's always there to talk to somebody. He's really approachable."
Amid the awards and national attention, "(Sepulveda) was a team guy," Nelson says. "It would have been easy for a guy who had won one Ray Guy Award and then another to be an "I" guy, but he wasn't."
Sepulveda's modesty is matched only by his athleticism and competitiveness. He ran a 40-yard dash in about 4.4 seconds, a solid time for NFL players, and at 6 feet 3 inches and 230 pounds, he is a formidable presence. "If someone was to walk onto the football field not knowing anyone's name, that person would think he was a starting linebacker," Havens says. 
Sepulveda's competitive spirit comes out in every sport he plays. Havens remembers heated games of recreational golf, and Nelson remembers a soccer game among members of the football team, when even without much experience at the game, Sepulveda stood out.

Making the grade
Amid the football season's intensive schedule, Sepulveda always kept up with schoolwork. He received academic All-Big 12 honors each of his four years, and he completed his accounting major with a 3.46 cumulative GPA. Sepulveda's father is a CPA, and Sepulveda describes himself as "a math-oriented guy," so his major fit him well.
Getting good grades had been ingrained in him since his youth. "That's something that my parents really stressed to us from an early age. If you don't get good grades now you'll be shutting doors later in your life. A lot of guys don't realize that football doesn't last forever. There's a time when football will end, so I did my best early on."
Punting was relatively new for Sepulveda, but the game of football had always been in his life. "That was my childhood," Sepulveda says. "As soon as I could pick up a ball, I was always outside running around."
His brother Stephen, two years older, played football in full pads in the fourth grade. Daniel went to all his games and most practices. As soon as Daniel reached fourth grade, he quit soccer and baseball and focused on football. His father coached him, his older brother and his two younger brothers when they were all old enough to play. Stephen, an alumnus and former football player at Baylor, now interns at a Dallas hospital while applying for medical school. Matthew Sepulveda is a junior business major at Baylor and Michael is a high school junior.

A Baylor walk-on
Daniel punted for a few years in middle school, but not in high school. His senior year of high school he switched to linebacker, and that was the position he took when he walked on to head coach Kevin Steele's Baylor team in 2002.
"The only reason I did it was because my older brother Stephen (BS '04) was on the team," he says. Stephen was already an established and successful linebacker, and Daniel wanted to play with him. 
He missed that goal when he was red shirted for the season, but during his time on the bench, he decided to give punting another try. "The punter that Baylor brought in on scholarship was smaller than me, so I had a stronger leg," he says. He offered himself for a tryout, but wasn't taken seriously.
Nevertheless, Sepulveda practiced with a punting coach in Dallas over the summer break, and when Guy Morris was hired in 2003, Nelson - who was then the new special teams coach - let Sepulveda try out for the punting position. He started the 2003 season as punter, a position he earned during fall football camp.
"I remember staying with him after practice during his first break to watch him punt," Nelson says. "It didn't always go where it was supposed to, but it went far. You can't teach that."
Although Nelson did not train Sepulveda to punt he nonetheless enjoyed seeing the young man's growth as a person and a player. "He matured. In the first season he would get frustrated with himself, but it was fun watching him become better and to begin to understand the bigger picture," Nelson says. "Daniel wasn't about Daniel. He'll be the first to tell you that without all the help from the team, he wouldn't have been able to do all he did."

Guiding hand
Good technique he learned from his Dallas punting coach continued to improve Sepulveda's performance during his career. Learning how to take the right steps and having a consistent drop, coupled with his natural athleticism, resulted in great punting game after game and brought in accolades and honors from newspapers and sports organizations from across the country. 
Sepulveda says he feels that there was something more than himself behind his success. "What (the success) really showed me was that God was working in my life," he says. "I showed up to be a linebacker and asked if I could try to punt. God was behind all of it, and it became so clear to me that God had a plan for my life and that He has a plan for my life. It became my prayer that God would help me align the desires of my life and help me fulfill his plan for me."
By the end of his third active season, Sepulveda was a household name at Baylor. In April 2006, however, Sepulveda injured his knee in a pick-up game of basketball, leaving him wondering if he would be able to play the first games of the season.
"That was a setback for sure," he says. "The doctor told me that 90 percent of the outcome depends on how you do with the physical therapy, so I used that to motivate myself." With support from friends, family and medical staff, Sepulveda recovered on time. He earned yet another Ray Guy Award and broke the NCAA record for most career punts of 50 yards or more.
What's next? "I really don't have any expectations," Sepulveda says. "I just want to lay hold of the best that God has in store for me. It could be a Pro Bowl career, or it could be two or three years. I'm not ready to say I'm done. I enjoy playing football, and I just want to do the best I can."