Dodge ready to muscle his way to big year|ECU’s bulky punter setting high goals

Published 12:42 pm Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Sports Editor

GREENVILLE — When Matt Dodge steps onto the football field, he looks more like a linebacker than a punter. The intimidating-looking Dodge, affable and chatty off the playing field, is looking to help muscle his East Carolina Pirates to another Conference USA championship.
“This is where you want to be. It’s great being the Conference USA champions,” Dodge said. “If you look back at the history of the conference, nobody has repeated. It is tough, but we’re up for the challenge.”
The 6-2, 220-pound senior, a preseason First-Team All-Conference USA selection, is looking to cap off his ECU playing days in style. Dodge, who has played in 27 games for ECU, averaged 43.9 yards per punt last year.
He has a career average of 42.6 yards per punt, putting 44 of his 153 boots inside the opponent’s 20-yard line.
“I’ve set some pretty lofty goals,” Dodge said. “I’m nominated for the Ray Guy Award (for the nation’s best punter). To win that would be ideal.
“I’d like to get all-conference and all-American. I’m looking to do it all this year. If I have a good season, it’s just going to help our team win.”
Dodge had a chance to meet Guy, a former NFL great with the Oakland Raiders, early in his football career.
“I had a chance to meet Ray Guy when I went to a camp when I was 15 years old,” Dodge said. “Never would I have known then I would possibly be considered to win his award.”
Dodge said that being named to the Ray Guy Watch List is nice, and is an added incentive to do well.
“That added some excitement,” Dodge said. “Some people have asked if that makes me nervous or adds pressure, but to me that just means more motivation.
“I don’t let it go to my head or anything like that. You don’t win anything before the season starts. It’s just awesome and a source for motivation.”
Of those nominated for the award, Dodge is likely the biggest. The admitted bodybuilding junky, who has benched as much as 375 pounds, enjoys throwing around the iron as much as he likes smashing the ball with his foot.
“My second love in life is bodybuilding,” Dodge said. “If you look at my computer, you’ll see nothing but bodybuilding or football web sites. It’s just kind of a hobby I picked up.
“You get addicted to it. It’s just part of me; I love to lift weights. It’s cool to get the extra attention about that.”
Dodge is in such great shape that even some of the largest Pirates have gone to him for tips.
“Linval Joseph and C.J. Wilson, two of the biggest guys on the team, asked me what I did to get this big,” Dodge said with a laugh. “They’ll ask for like diet tips and stuff like that.”
But since the bulky Dodge usually just kicks the ball, does he feel like he’s missing out on unloading his brawn on a small return man?
“If the opportunity arises, I’ll definitely try to take advantage of it,” Dodge said. “I have so much faith in our gunners, hopefully it won’t come down to that.”
Dodge will get his first crack at booming some punts when the Pirates play host to Appalachian State in the Sept. 5 season opener. Dodge is a former Mountaineer, playing at Appalachian State in 2005.
While there is old blood there, Dodge doesn’t feel any extra motivation to beat his former team.
“There’s nothing added than just getting a good start to the season,” Dodge said. “I haven’t circled this game on my schedule or anything like that.
“I didn’t leave on bad terms. It just wasn’t for me, so I came here. I’ve got nothing but respect for Appalachian State.”
Dodge, a religious sort who “praises God for everything,” is hoping he and the Pirates get off to a good start. A solid start will help Dodge kick-start what he’s hoping will be a magical season.
“Every morning I wake up and write down my goals for the season,” Dodge said. “That way I can just beat it into my mind.
“I would love to average 48.0 yards (per punt). Everywhere I go, I’m writing 48, 48. The thing I want to see the most is seeing our net (average) go up. I’m aiming for 42 (yards) on our net. If it means that I punt it 42 yards and they fair-catch it every time, that’s perfect for us. You’ll lead the country doing that.”
Dodge is hoping that once his college days are over, he’ll have a chance to play at the next level. However, he’s not overly concerned about his chances.
“I really don’t think about it,” Dodge said. “For me to get to the NFL, I realize there are 32 jobs out there. For me to think about it constantly and to put all my money on that would be kind of foolish.
“If the opportunity did arise, I would take full advantage of it.”
If football doesn’t work, maybe the possible Ray Guy Award winner can start working toward the Sandow trophy, given to Mr. Olympia.