The punt goes up. Jonathan Krause moves in, prepares to catch the ball and run up field.
But he never does catch the ball and run up field because like clockwork here comes the boom. And again. And again. And again.
Over the last three weeks the Vanderbilt junior has been more of a human magnet than a punt returner. Only 5-foot-11 and 182 pounds, Krause has absorbed a ton of vicious blow as he tries to field punts.
On back-to-back possessions last weekend against Kentucky, he was knocked down before he had a chance to haul in the ball. Both times Kentucky was penalized 15 yards for kick catching interference.
“I guess that is what happens when you attack the ball,” Krause said with a smile. “The ball is kicked but they are just running to you. They’re thinking the ball is going deep. But most of the time the ball is really not going deep so I just run towards it and try to catch it. Usually they run into me.”
As Vanderbilt (5-4, 3-3 SEC) heads into Saturday’s game at Ole Miss (5-4, 2-3), Krause has shown steady improvement in his punt returns. After being a non-factor for much of the season and losing his starting job to top receiver Jordan Matthews, he’s been more active the last two weeks. Of his 150 return yards, 132 have come on 10 returns in the last two games.
The big hits have increased too.
Opponents try to time contact perfectly so that when Krause catches the ball he goes nowhere. Kentucky miscalculated as did Auburn two weeks earlier. The Tigers were also flagged twice for interfering with Krause.
Against Massachusetts two weeks ago, the Minutemen let Krause catch the ball and run 26 yards — and then hit him hard. He was “clotheslined” and slammed to the ground on a tackle that was a borderline facemask. Krause got the last laugh, though, as he later ran back a punt 40 yards for a touchdown.
“That is just one thing you’ve got to accept playing football — you’re going to get hit here and there,” said Krause, who also plays slot receiver. “You just got to keep on playing.”
No one would have blamed Krause if he didn’t want to go back out after the devastating hit he took last October.
Calling a fair catch, Krause ran up to get under the ball. But the ball bounced two yards away from him as Arkansas’ Marquel Wade crashed into Krause, delivering an illegal helmet-to-helmet blow. Wade was immediately ejected and suspended for the next game.
Krause lay on the field for several minutes before he got up on his own and walked off the field. He passed concussion tests and played the next week.
“He is a really tough guy,” receiver Chris Boyd said. “That hit last year against Arkansas obviously that was unfortunate. But for someone to get hit like that and then come back into the game and catch another punt that means a lot. We saw him do that and we were like, ‘This guy has heart.’ We’re happy to have him on our team.’ ”
• What injuries?: Coach James Franklin began his post-practice remarks on Wednesday night by trying to clear up some “confusion” about injuries: there are none at Vanderbilt. Or at least Franklin won’t acknowledge or shed light on injured players.
He’s been that way since he arrived on campus nearly two years ago. He felt he needed to address the situation and spent nearly two minutes on the subject.
“No. 1, we don’t talk about injuries,” Franklin said. “That’s not me trying to be a jerk. But we don’t talk about injuries and we don’t talk about anything but the game we’re playing right now. I feel like that is in our best interest.”
Franklin, sticking to his policy, wouldn’t confirm that starting center Spencer Pulley is out for the year. He hasn’t been listed on the depth chart the last two weeks.
• Coaching rumors: Apparently, the coaching rumor mill has started to churn out Franklin’s name.
The internet spewed out Franklin as a possible successor at a handful schools that might have openings soon.
“I haven’t [heard his name mentioned] but that is this business,” Franklin said. “When you have success and you’re doing some good things and you’ve got great kids and they’re playing hard that pays respect to our program and what we’re doing. But that’s it. Our focus is on Ole Miss but that is part of the profession.”