Nathan Knuffman: not your average kicker

Knuffman currently ranks sixth all-time in field goals, fifth in extra points and fifth in scoring among Western kickers.

Adam Feiner

Many Divison 1 college kickers and punters either go on to kick or punt, not do both. Not many Division I kickers or punters are left-footed. Or come from west central Illinois. Or hail from a town of less than 200 people. Or attended a high school of less than 300 kids. Or played linebacker and fullback at said high school. Then again, Western Illinois senior Nathan Knuffman isn’t your typical kicker or punter.

“He’s a football player, not just a kicking specialist,” said new special teams coordinator Ben Hodges. “It’s nice, makes him lot easier to coach.”

Nathan Knuffman is from Coastburg, Illinois, a village in Adams County with a population of 147 people as of the last census. He grew up with a passion for football, especially when watching a role model who he could relate to: the left-footed Sebastian Janikowski of the NFL’s Oakland Raiders.

“Growing up kicking left-footed, everybody joked that I was on the wrong side of the ball,” Knuffman said. “Looking up to someone that kicked just like I did helped with that.”

In his high school playing days, Nathan, like so many small school kids do, almost never left the field. He would play fullback on offense, linebacker on defense and handle the kicking duties for the Class 2A Camp Point Central Panthers. What’s most impressive is that Knuffman rushed for 946 yards and 10 touchdowns and made 94 tackles in his senior year at Camp Point. That fact was an eye-opener for some of his current teammates at Western.

“All the seniors talked at fall camp this year, and Coach Fisher brought those facts up,” Knuffman said. “Everybody seemed kind of shocked about it. I like to take pride in the fact that I’m not just a kicker. I like to run down the field and hit people if I can.”

Still, he knew that his offensive and defensive skills wouldn’t get him to the Division I level. It wasn’t until his senior season when he realized he had the kicking skills to make the jump.

“Before then, I never kicked with much technique,” Knuffman said. “My senior year, I went to a prospect camp, and saw I was better than most of the kids there. The coach that ran the camp told me that I had the potential.”

Nathan earned Class 2A First Team All-State honors for his senior season, which included 45 extra points, 5 field goals and 33 touchbacks. That attracted the local Division I school, Western Illinois. He redshirted his freshman season, but was leaned on heavily to kick and punt the following season due to both kickers leaving the program.

“My freshman spring was the first I’d ever really focused on punting,” Knuffman said. “That first year was an eye-opener that told me I needed to work on it more. Slowly, I got better and better at it.”

The first big game of his career as a Leatherneck came in his redshirt sophomore season in a road game at #10-ranked Youngstown State.

“I had a field goal, a couple big punts and a fake punt run, so that was pretty exciting because it switched the momentum of the game,” Knuffman said.

His 27-yard run in the third quarter helped the Leathernecks to an upset win over the Penguins.

The second and most recent highlight came last year on homecoming against Southern Illinois. With the Leathernecks trailing 36-34 and two seconds remaining, Knuffman sent the Western faithful home happy with a 20-yard field goal as
time expired.

“It was a total team effort,” Knuffman said of the game. “But I was glad it came down to me, and I came through for the team.”

This year, the expectations are higher than they’ve ever been in Nathan’s career at Western. That means he’s raising the bar high for himself and his team.

“I want to average over 40 yards per punt, and knock it through the pipes every field goal and extra point,” Knuffman said. “As for the team, I want to win. My freshman year we weren’t very good, but we’ve got better and better every year. I think this year is going to be our year to put ourselves on the map by hopefully winning a conference championship and a national championship.”