SAN ANTONIO — A trip to Disney World is supposed to be fun. But last week’s trek around the amusement park near Orlando, Fla. was not easy for Jay Bramblett.
The Notre Dame football punter signee had just been fully cleared from a Nov. 19 ankle surgery. Walking 10 miles per day across the resort, Bramblett estimated, made his right ankle act up again.
“My ankle was a balloon,” Bramblett said. “Walking like that got so much swelling out of it, it was incredible. It’s crazy. It was massive.”
Expected to play in Saturday’s All-American Bowl, Bramblett is still adjusting to the two screws, two buttons, two plates and a titanium wire that was inserted between his fibia and tibia. He joins Irish signees Kyle Hamilton and Andrew Kristofic on the East team, while NaNa Osafo-Mensah and ND targets Asa Turner and Isaiah Foskey will compete for the West squad.
NBC will broadcast the 1 p.m. EST game from the Alamodome.
As Tuscaloosa (Ala.) Hillcrest’s quarterback, Bramblett suffered a severe high ankle sprain in a Nov. 8 playoff game against Lanier. The 6-foot-1, 185-pounder tore the anterior talofibular ligament (ATFL) and posterior talofibular ligament (PTFL), while partially tearing his calcaneofibular ligament (CFL).
This week, he has not looked like the Jay Bramblett that booted 41 punts for an average of 45.1 yards and a long of 59 yards as a senior. But he’s close.
“Both hang time and distance is down from what it used to be,” Bramblett said. “I’m probably hitting 40 yards with anywhere between 4.2 to 4.5 (seconds) hang time. Back in the summer, when I was 100 percent, I was 50 (yards) and close to 5.0 (seconds). You can definitely tell my strength is down. I can definitely be a lot better, but it’s going to take some time.
“I’m rusty, and there’s a mechanical side to it. I got away from it a little bit with surgery. I haven’t been in the weight room, and I haven’t been practicing, so it falls off really quick.”
The shrinkage post-surgery created an imbalance, as Bramblett’s left ankle was almost twice as big as his right. They are even now, although Bramblett’s right ankle swells on occasion. He stretches for 20 minutes before practices and 30 minutes before bed each night. Bramblett sat out of Wednesday’s combined practice, icing his right ankle.
“Getting the swelling down is the main thing, because gravity works here on planet Earth,” Bramblett said. “So it pulls it straight down, it stays swollen and I have to keep it propped up for awhile. Whenever you do therapy, you have to ice it for a good bit. If you don’t keep the swelling down, it does not help it heal.”
Three weeks of physical therapy put Bramblett on his feet in no time. Full range of motion returned in early December. Bramblett went from not being able to put weight on his big toe to walking without pain in one day.
The turnaround impressed his kicking coach, Mike McCabe, founder of One On One Kicking.
“That’s him more talking,” said McCabe of Bramblett’s self-imposed criticism. “I saw him last week after he was released from rehab and everything else, and he averaged 4.7 (seconds) hang time. Really? I mean, like, gosh…He’s a player that’s hard on himself. That’s what I like about him, because there’s no standard.”
McCabe has trained almost half of the NFL’s starting punters. Johnny Hekker, the Los Angeles Rams’ punter, trained with Bramblett a couple times. Short steps before booting it highlights the technique of both punters.
Bramblett and McCabe compared him to Hekker, a four-time Pro-Bowler.
“He was punting at the level of a sophomore in college before the season ended,” McCabe said. “The last prediction I did that with was Blake Gillikin at Penn State when he was out of high school. And he’s been balling.”
Shaking off rust, polishing mechanics and regaining strength will be the next steps for Bramblett, who will be one of the 10 early enrollees at ND this spring. Bramblett should return to form in one month, he said.
“Definitely not where I’d like to be, and I know it’s kind of tough because of that (surgery),” Bramblett said. “I’m trying to build it back up and stuff. Not as strong as I’ve been. I have not been able to be in the weight room. My calf was about half the size of what it was.”
The Irish will be counting on him. With Tyler Newsome’s eligibility expiring, Bramblett is in line to start four years at punter.
“I’m going in with my head down, and I’m going to work hard like there is someone there competing with me for it,” Bramblett said. “I want to be the best I can be, and I don’t want that to be the reason why I hold myself back or don’t do what I need to do to perform at the highest level.”
One last dance
The rainy conditions have not prevented Osafo-Mensah from soaking in the Alamo City. As an early enrollee, Osafo-Mensah no longer worries about impressing scouts, coaches and analysts.
“This has been some of the most fun I’ve had my whole year,” Osafo-Mensah said.
That’s evident through his body language and energy throughout the West’s practices. When the Alamodome blasts rap music, there’s a good chance Osafo-Mensah is dancing.
“Oh yeah, all the time,” Osafo-Mensah said. “Even back in my high school days, I would always dance in practice. When there is music on, I’m always dancing. Or even if it is not on, it will be on in my head. It is something that keeps me energetic and moving. I don’t have to be a mellow person.”
Beyond recruiting Foskey and Turner, Osafo-Mensah’s focus remains on staying healthy. But he does have a plan for Saturday.
“My biggest goal is to get two sacks on t.v.” he said.
Isaiah Rutherford snub
One Irish signee took to Twitter to express his concern about not garnering an invite to the All-American Bowl and Under Armour All-America Game. Isaiah Rutherford, a cornerback for Carmichael (Calif.) Jesuit, felt snubbed.
They gone regret not inviting me to an All American game.... fuel to the fire— Isaiah Rutherford (@zay_rutherford) January 2, 2019
Opponents rarely threw to the side of Rutherford, who as a result only recorded 14 tackles, two interceptions and two forced fumbles as a senior. With cornerback Julian Love declaring for the NFL Draft, Rutherford has an opportunity to play early for the Irish. He should at least see action on special teams.
“I don’t know. Honestly, I don’t know,” said Rutherford on why they didn’t select him. “I got a ton of offers, and I’m going to a big time school. I don’t know. It’s up to them. They say these experts know what they are talking about, but it’s whatever.”
The Polynesian Bowl, which will be played at Aloha Stadium in O’ahu, Hawaii, welcomed Rutherford to play in the Jan. 19 game. CBS Sports Network will broadcast the contest. 247Sports rates Rutherford four-stars and as the nation’s No. 23 cornerback and No. 222 overall player. Rivals also slates him as a four-star and as the No. 10 cornerback and No. 101 overall player.
“At the end of the day, it’s not really that big of a deal,” Rutherford said. “The important thing is getting on campus, performing and trying to help the team win.”