A Year Later, Conley Aims to Kick It Up a Notch- Randy Lange
A Year Later, Conley Aims to Kick It Up a Notch
Published: Wed, June 23, 2010 - 4:50pm ET
By Randy Lange
Lange is editor-in-chief of newyorkjets.com. He covered the Jets for 13 years for a North Jersey daily newspaper.
File Under: Mike Westhoff, Rex Ryan, Louie Aguiar, T.J. Conley, Steve Weatherford
change font email article 06/23 — T.J. Conley came to the Jets as an undrafted free agent punter a year ago off a gaudy senior season at Idaho and a campus visit from special teams coordinator Mike Westhoff. He didn't make it past the middle of August in Cortland before he was waived.
But he returned to the roster in February and, a year older and wiser, is ready to take another swing at the Jets' punting job against incumbent Steve Weatherford.
"I think the first couple of weeks I was getting some of the rust out. Now I've really started coming into what I'm used to," T.J. told me last week before the end of the full-squad minicamp. "I've been punting pretty good the last few days."
What happened last year? Maybe it was the transition from Big Sky Country to the Big Apple or from scholarship to paycheck, but Conley said he needed to grow a little.
"I had a pretty good opportunity last year," he said. "Getting into the NFL, the whole mindset was a little different than college. I wasn't quite ready for it. I wasn't acclimated to it. Now I definitely feel like I've got the right mindset."
Westhoff and head coach Rex Ryan, who looked at eight punters last offseason and preseason before going with Weatherford, obviously liked Conley. As Rex said the day the team and the punter first parted ways:
"I think that the young man has the potential to kick in this league. It’s just for some reason, very few rookies come out as punters and actually punt in the NFL as rookies. Sometimes it takes them a little while to find their niche. But I think he certainly has talent. We’ll see."
Conley thought there could be a return invitation from the Green & White, but he wasn't sitting on his hands waiting for the phone to ring. He stayed in shape and visited ST guru and former Jets punter Louie Aguiar several times. After his re-signing, he's been working again with Westhoff, and Aguiar even came east from his Las Vegas base to pay a visit to the Atlantic Health Jets Training Center.
Soon Conley will be going head-to-head and leg-to-leg with Weatherford. The two have a great relationship as they draw closer to Cortland.
"Steve's a real nice guy. We still hang out. We don't think of it so much as a competition against each other as it's more of a competition against ourselves," he said. "We both know if we perform to the best of our abilities, we're going to get the job."
Except one job will be with the Jets and the other will be elsewhere. Conley feels that now he's ready to try to tie up a pro job. But before camp gets under way, he'll tie the knot. He's getting married to his college sweetheart, Tassie Souhrada, a top high-jumper at Idaho, on July 11.
"We're going to have a big Montana country wedding," he said. "We're having it in a church but our reception's going to be outside mostly. It's going to be a big wedding, 400 people. She's got a real big family and I've got a big family. It's going to be awesome."
Jets fans no doubt wish a picture-perfect day for the bride and groom. As for the punting competition, may the best man win.
Time for a III-Peat
NFL Network is planning a full re-air of Super Bowl III between the Jets and Colts. I won't tell you the final score in case you want to tape it. The game will air on NFLN's "Super Bowl Classics" on Saturday at 8 p.m. EDT.