Brad Nortman had a leg up on his future in football even when he was kicking off his school days in kindergarten.
"We used to kick the schoolyard balls back and forth, and being a bigger kid, I really prided myself on giving it a really good boot," said Nortman, a Brookfield native and the Wisconsin Badgers' punter the last four seasons. "Even back then I had the explosion and the power that I have now.
"Even then, my classmates would go, 'Wow!'"
It's usually elementary to peg someone for the glamour positions on the gridiron, but the position of punter sometimes ends up a de facto choice – whoever wants it, can have it. Nortman not only raised his hand to accept the role, he turned himself into a sandlot weapon.
"I started out at a young age on the youth football teams; they needed someone to fill the role of punter," said Nortman. "I had a relatively big leg for a young kid and they just sort of threw me in there. When I got to high school, it was an opportunity to get on the varsity team. I had a big leg, but very unpolished."
Nortman was all over the field at Brookfield Central, playing tight end and linebacker for the Lancers but making his mark with his punts. The "wow" factor got louder and more thunderous – teammates and opponents marveled at the booming boots off the foot of Nortman. He passed the eye test, but sought out a highly trained eye for a second opinion.
"My junior year my dad discovered a punting camp that was nationally renowned in Las Vegas," said Nortman. "I performed well and discovered I was more advanced than I thought I was."
Ranked as the No. 4 punter in the nation by Rivals.com and No. 8 by Scout.com, the Nortman name was launched into recruiting agendas, triggering phone calls and scholarship offers from major Division 1 schools. Wisconsin offered, Nortman accepted, and his four-year career of getting rid of the pigskin was set in motion.
"I thought, 'Wow, this can actually be a launch pad for a football career and perhaps more,'" said Nortman. "I can almost tell beforehand with the timing and the flow of my steps, the fluidity of it, I can really feel as I kick the ball or even just before I can feel if it will be a great kick."
There were great kicks galore for Nortman, who started as a freshman and punted 199 times in his Wisconsin career – modest numbers that translate to about only three or four punts a game. The Badgers' high-octane offense kept Nortman grounded on the sidelines most of the time.
"That's really a great day for me because we're getting the win," said Nortman, who averaged over 40 yards per kick all four seasons and finished with a career mark of 42.1 yards per punt.
"No one ever wants to really see the punter on the field anyway, and when they do, they just want to see you go out there and not screw up."
At 6 feet 3 inches and 210 pounds, Nortman has the built and ilk to muscle a football to the moon and put kick returners in chase mode. But as he grew physically and matured during his days in Madison, Nortman added the finesse game to his repertoire, dropping 69 of those 199 inside the 20-yard line.
"It's such a timing-based motion and very detail-oriented too, so I can feel if the drop is right over my foot or just a little bit inside," said Nortman, who likens his punting motion to that of a golfer's backswing. "There is so much to it, if you don't get it perfectly right, I can feel it."
Finesse is fine, but the eye candy for punters like Nortman are the kicks that seem like they get a bionic boost off the toes. During his junior campaign, Nortman unloaded a career best 76-yarder against Austin Peay, then came two bounces short of matching it last season at Illinois when he smacked a 74-yarder that help swing momentum back to the Badgers.
"That's the most thrilling part of my job, knowing that any punt can be a game changer," said Nortman. "You don't know it then, but it has the ability to lead to something and I really take a lot of pride in that."
Despite the limited reps at Wisconsin, Nortman cherished each opportunity presented to him, making the most of each kick and treating it with critical urgency. And should things become unraveled and go against the plan, Nortman found instant serenity with a dose of short-term memory.
"When I was younger in my career it was difficult to do that," said Nortman. "I have definitely matured as a person and as a football player. Even though the reps you have are limited, there is always going to be another time. You just hope that the one time you screw up it isn't something game changing.
"You really have to have confidence in your abilities, because if you don't, and you let the small things worry you, you're going to be exposed and you won't have a job for long."
Now Nortman hopes his numbers, accolades and wow-factor leg translate into a paid job on Sundays.
"I really took it personally and took a lot of pride in what I did here the last four years," said Nortman, "And then I started to ask the coaches if they think I can make it in the NFL. I've always had confidence in my skills and I feel as though I belong there and hopefully my opportunity will come about, which is all I can really ask for is just a shot."
Nortman is getting that shot, being put under the NFL microscope. Scouts and professional personal watched with stopwatch in hand as Nortman punted in the Senior Bowl on Jan. 28, then followed up with three and a half days of intense scrutiny at the NFL Combine in Indianapolis.
"I definitely feel like I've made my presence known," said Nortman. "Going into it, I may not have been one of the top punters certainly because of how good our offense was, which is a great problem to have by the way, because we did a lot of pooch punts, and my average didn't really wow anybody. But being able to do these post-season opportunities has allowed me to just go in and showcase my power and what I can do.
"I'm just hoping a team will take a chance and give me a shot."
Nortman never lacks a bold approach, even though the reality is only 32 punter jobs exist in the National Football League. He is undaunted and unafraid to dream the dream.
"After watching the guys in the NFL, and then coming back from the Combine and watching those guys, you realize how good they really are, how refined they are and how difficult it is to make it," said Nortman. "I really have a lot of confidence in myself that I can outmatch anybody."
That dream never changes course reverting into a nightmare. Nortman doesn't battle any sleep demons, doesn't conjure up images of failure even when he closes his eyes.
"I've lived just about any situation I can imagine so there really isn't anything I haven't seen as a punter," said Nortman. "The reality of it is enough that it doesn't bleed over into my subconscious, thankfully. I've had everything from bomb punts when the team really needs it to great pooch punts when the team really needs it. I've had fake punts, punts returned for a touchdown, punts that got blocked. I've been shelled on the return trying to make the tackle so I've seen it all.
"Even if I were to experience it in a nightmare or some great dream, it wouldn't be anything too new to me. I've punted so many times in my life, in practice and in games; it doesn't make any rational sense if I screw up once. That once probably represents .001 percentage of the times that I do my craft. So there is no need because the probability of me doing it again is so small that it isn't really worth worrying about."
Number crunching even his miscues is a signal that Nortman has a plan in place if punting doesn't pan out. A National Honor Society standout in high school, Nortman kept his nose in his books in Madison to achieve even greater success in the classroom than he did on the gridiron, heralded as an Academic All-Big Ten member each and every season he booted for Bucky.
"How you handle your business in one area of your life falls into and contributes into every other aspect of your life," said Nortman, who will graduate in May with an undergraduate degree in accounting. "The way I dedicated myself on the field, focused on the field and the way I took it personally as a punter, I established that in the classroom as well.
"I've always taken a lot of pride in my academics and knew how important it was because at some point I'm going to take my last snap ... it might be when I'm 18 years old or when I'm 40, you never really know. You always need to have that backup plan, always need to do something you love after your first love of football."
Nortman did perform an internship with Deloitte, a major professional services firm in Chicago, and could have very easily turned his tassel and stroll into his new number-crunching career right out of college. But his future employers gave him their blessing, telling Nortman to push forward and chase his dream.
Someone like Nortman, who plans to get his CPA license in the future, digests and equates the odds of landing one of 32 jobs but still arrives at the same solution ... why drop the ball now?
"It's really, really competitive," said Nortman. "I take a lot of solace knowing I've given it my all and when it's all said and done, when I've exhausted all of my opportunities and it doesn't work out, that's okay. But I really think that I will give it my all and make the best of it."
Bob currently does play-by-play at Time Warner Cable Sports 32, calling Wisconsin Timber Rattlers games in Appleton as well as the area high school football and basketball scene. During an earlier association with FS Wisconsin, his list of teams and duties have included the Packers, Bucks, Brewers and the WIAA State Championships.
During his life before cable, Bob spent seven seasons as a reporter and producer of "Preps Plus: The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel High School Sports Show."
And the joke is, Bob has a golf shirt from all four Milwaukee television stations. Sad, but true: Bob has had sports and news anchor/reporter/producer stints at WTMJ, WISN, WDJT and WITI.
His first duty out of college (UW-Oshkosh) was radio and TV work in Eau Claire. Bob spent nearly a decade at WEAU-TV as a sports director and reporter.
You may have heard Bob's pipes around town as well. He has done play-by-play for the Milwaukee Mustangs, Milwaukee Iron, and UW-Milwaukee men's and women's basketball. Bob was the public address announcer for five seasons for both the Marquette men and women's basketball squads. This season, you can catch the starting lineups of the UW-Milwaukee Panther men's games with Bob behind the mic.
A Brookfield Central graduate, Bob's love and passion for sports began at an early age, when paper football leagues, and Wiffle Ball All Star Games were all the rage in the neighborhood.