COOKEVILLE, Tenn. -- The state that made the "hanging chad" famous will see a completely different version when Tennessee Tech punter Chad Zinchini takes the field for the Jacksonville Jaguars. The Golden Eagle All-American punter from Hendersonville, Tenn., signed as an undrafted free agent with the NFL club following the 2014 NFL Draft.
His addition to the Jacksonville roster marks the third season
in a row that the Tech football team has produced a new player in
the National Football League.
Forthe past two season, Zinchini has been hanging his punts high and deep, ranking among the very best in the nation while earning back-to-back first-team all-OVC honors and a handful of All-America nods.
Zinchini follows the footsteps of wide receivers Tim Benford (2012) and Da’Rick Rogers (2013), who both entered the league as undrafted free agents in the past two years. Benford was signed by the Dallas Cowboys and remains with the team’s practice squad. Rogers was signed by the Buffalo Bills, was released, then signed by the Indianapolis Colts, where he saw action at the end of the 2013 season.
“Chad is well-deserving," said Golden Eagle head coach Watson Brown. "I’m really excited for him. That’s probably the hardest position in the NFL to get a free agency at. They just don’t take that many punters and kickers because those guys last a long time. They’ve got them up there that are 40 years old and still punting and kicking. There just aren’t a lot of spots for them at camp.”
A walk-on at Middle Tennessee State in 2010 out of Beech High School, Zinchini left MTSU after suffering a foot injury and transfered to Vol State Community College. He came to Tech prior to the 2012 season and made an immediate impact in his first season with the Golden Eagles. Kicking 65 times that year, he averaged a school-record 44.8 yards per kick to rank fourth in the nation (FCS) and first in the OVC, crushing 25 kicks longer than 50 yards.
Last season he broke his own school-record when he averaged 45.7 yards per punt. He dropped 20 kicks inside the 20-yard line.
“I thought he was easily in the top five in the country,” Brown said. “I felt that all the way. Hopefully, he’ll get a chance to go in there and prove that.”
Zinchini's career-long punt was a 70 yard bomb during the past season at Wisconsin, a soaring kick that brought gasps from the Badger faithful and bounced out of bounds inside the one-yard line.
He set two single-game records at Eastern Illinois on No. 2 when he punted 13 times for 548 yards.
At the close of the 2013 season, Zinchini received his second all-OVC first-team selection and was named to the College Sports Madness all-OVC and all-America teams. He was also named the FCS National Punter of the Week by the College Football Performance Awards twice during the 2013 campaign and was a Sports Network FCS preseason all-American and a BeyondCollegeSports.com preseason all-American.
For his two-year career, Zinchini totaled 6,339 yards on 140 punts, an average of 45.28 yards per punt, with 39 punts inside the 20, 18 fair catches and 17 touchbacks.
“Man, have we been lucky here with punters,” Brown
said. “Nick Campbell before Chad, who was the best in the
league, and now Chad. It’s just been fantastic. (Next
year’s punter) Jonathan King has a little bit of pressure on
Note: Some of the information in this story was provided by Thomas Corhern of the Cookeville Herald-Citizen