During Penn football practice, the defense is clearly identified in blue jerseys and the offense in white led by the quarterback in red.
Hidden away are the men in gold, the kickers and punters who can often be seen goofing around on the sidelines while the rest of the team is on the field.
Starting kicker Connor Loftus and starting punter and holder Scott Lopano like to have fun while they are waiting for their turn on the gridiron. But when they’ve gotten on the field this season, they have done a near-flawless job.
Lopano has the highest net yards per punt of any punter in the Ivy League. This past week, he was named Ivy Player of the Week for special teams after pinning six of his eight punts inside the 20-yard line against Harvard on Saturday.
Meanwhile, Loftus has the second-best field goal percentage in the league, missing no extra points and just two field goals all season. The Quakers would not have won at least a share of the Ivy League title without Loftus’ two field goals that sealed a comeback victory against Brown on Oct. 27.
During practice, Loftus and Lopano spend most of their time playing games, such as seeing who can kick the ball closest to a target in the Franklin Field stands or juggle a football the most times.
“Our practices are very different,” Lopano said. “The specialists typically take four to seven periods of practice off and spend only about half an hour on the field during practice.”
“I think it’s realistic to how you play in the game,” the senior punter added. “When we get twenty kicks in a row, we get in a groove. A game is nothing like that. You kick a great one, and then you have to sit there for 30, 35 minutes.”
The two players took very different paths to becoming specialists.
Loftus’ uncle was a professional punter, so Loftus started practicing kicking and punting with his father and brother when he was 7 years old. But he was slow to commit to kicking and played safety and quarterback until his senior year of high school.
“I always scoffed at the kicker, thinking, ‘These guys do nothing,’ but now it’s different being on the other side of things,” he said.
Meanwhile, Lopano didn’t start punting until the seventh grade, after he won an open tryout against two other kids.
“I was the only one who put the ball in the air,” he recalled.
A former soccer player, Lopano never tried any other position in earnest.
“From then on, I realized personality wise and in terms of build, [punting] was more suitable to me and I really enjoyed it,” he said.
Though they practice separately from the offense and defense, Lopano and Loftus are quick to assert that they are still a part of the team.
“We feel like we’re a different part of the team, but the team does a good job of including us,” Loftus said. “We don’t feel like outsiders.”
“We’re absolutely a part of the team,” Lopano agreed. “We hang out with them — they’re my best friends. But we’re different. I guess we’re the special part of the team.”
Lopano and Loftus consider themselves their own section of the team, which in many ways is the glue that keeps the offense and defense together.
“We get each other and understand the intricacies of being a kicker at Penn,” Loftus said.
Before a field goal, Lopano always comes up with a random topic to distract Loftus. Past subjects have ranged from Halloween costumes to mutual friends to girls.
Loftus claims that this has been crucial to his success this season.
“You kick best, you punt best when you just do what you do and don’t try to do anything more,” he said. “When you talk like that, it brings you back to the sidelines or goofing around in tryouts.”
Loftus and Lopano were sad to acknowledge that they will play together for the last time this Saturday against Cornell as the Quakers play for the outright Ivy League title.
“I’m really going to miss this guy next year,” the sophomore kicker admitted.
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