YOUNGSTOWN - The truth is, Nick Liste looks like an average punter.
The only things that stick out - initially - when looking at Liste are his incredibly thick eyebrows.
The YSU senior, who recently finished his final season as a Penguin, is average height (5-foot-9) with a normal build (175 pounds). He is in good shape, but he doesn't have muscles popping out of his shirt. In fact, he looks a little out of place in a football uniform. Again, he's the typical punter.
Tribune Chronicle / R. Michael Semple
Former Youngstown State punter Nick Liste, shown here performing for scouts at YSU’s pro day, has a chance to reach the NFL.
Then he kicks the ball, and suddenly Liste doesn't seem so average anymore.
The football jumps off his foot like it's been shot out of a cannon. It soars as far as 50 or 60 yards on a good day and stays in the air 4 to 5 seconds. Put the ball on a tee, and it's really in trouble. Liste booted more kickoffs out of the end zone (38) than any player in the Football Championship Subdivision as a senior in 2013.
Now he's trying to turn his talents into a job as an NFL kicker, an idea Youngstown State football coach Eric Wolford said is very realistic.
"I feel really good that he's going to get invited to a camp," Wolford said. "He just needs an opportunity."
Liste gave himself a chance with a great career at Youngstown State, a school that has produced two NFL kickers in its history (Paul McFadden and Jeff Wilkins).
Liste was a first-team All-Missouri Valley Football Conference performer as a senior. His punting average of 44.2 yards set a school record, was tops in the conference and sixth overall in the FCS. He booted 16 punts more than 50 yards and had 17 land inside the 20-yard line, and remember, a lot of this came in the swirling winds of Stambaugh Stadium.
"He's got great physical tools," said Jamie Bryant, YSU's special teams coordinator in 2013 before taking over as defensive coordinator last month. "He's got a lot of pop in his foot. He's a perfectionist, so his work ethic is outstanding, and he gets very upset when he doesn't hit a good ball every time. And when you have that kind of drive, you're going to be good."
Reaching the NFL has always been a dream of Liste's, but he said he didn't start thinking it could be a realistic possibility until his junior year, when his averages started to rise dramatically. He said his strength increased and his form improved, leading to better distances.
"That's when I really started to develop my kicks," Liste said. "I really started booting the ball. My first couple of seasons, I was average - middle of the pack. My junior year I started moving up a little bit and I started to improve on everything, so that's when it really started to cross my mind that I have a shot (at an NFL career)."
Liste, who has hired an agent, said he doesn't expect to get drafted (only one punter was taken in the 2013 NFL Draft), but there is hope he could get invited to an NFL camp as an undrafted free agent. He's been working with former NFL kicker Jeff Wilkins, who spent 14 seasons in the NFL and is the St. Louis Rams' all-time leading scorer. Wilkins has been a mentor to Liste since Liste started going to the Penguins' kicking camp back when he attended Niles High School. Wilkins, a 1990 Austintown Fitch High School grad, worked with Liste during his pro day on March 19. He too sees Liste as an NFL-caliber player.
"It's tough coming from a smaller school, but the good thing is kicking and punting are the same at every level," Wilkins said. "Other guys have to worry about the level of competition they went up against. The downside about being a kicker and punter is that sometimes it takes a few years to get in. It's rare that you get in that first year. If you get into a camp, you might not make it, but if someone sees you in a preseason game, then they might call you later down the road."
One asset Liste has that other punters may not is his versatility. He can kick off, punt, hold and kick long-distance field goals, all of which he performed during the pro day. He also showed he has athleticism, something most punters don't display. He leaped 31 inches, only 3 short of defensive back Dale Peterman's top jump of 34. That ability could come in handy on a high snap.
"To me, he's worth one and a half, two roster spots," Wolford said. "And when you talk about cutting down to (a 53-man roster), that's a big deal."
Liste also ran the 40 in 4.82 seconds - second best to Peterman's 4.69 - and while such skills may not be of great value for a punter (unless it's a fake), being a versatile athlete certainly doesn't hurt.
"I try to exhaust every option I can when it comes to a shot like this," Liste said. "I feel like any way they can save money or even bring in a guy to rest the starting guy's legs, sometimes that's all it is. Just getting in there and getting your name out there. The more you can do, the more value you have."
Wilkins agreed that his ability to play multiple positions is a major key. Wilkins was never a punter, but he did kick off and kick field goals. He also noted that it only takes one team to notice Liste and invite him to camp. Dozens of scouts came to YSU's practices last fall to look for potential prospects, according to Wolford, and more than one asked about Liste.
"He kicks off really well," said Wilkins, who pointed out the league now kicks off from the same yard line as college (35). "His consistency is what I like. From freshman to senior year in college, each year he just got better and better. That shows me that he worked at his craft and will continue to get better."
Liste said he will "probably" continue to pursue an NFL career even if he doesn't get picked up by a team this year. However, he's perfectly fine using his education - he's a physical education major - to make a living if things don't work out.
"As of right now, I'd say yes, I'm still going to try (for the NFL)," Liste said. "It would be a dream come true really. Obviously, we'll see down the road. I'm still going to continue toward my education. We're going to play it by ear. We'll see what happens, but as of now, I'm going to keep working for it."
The NFL Draft runs from May 8-10. Free agents can be picked up immediately following its conclusion.
By MATT WAGNER
Like most brothers, Dimitrios and George Makridis were hyper-competitive growing up as kids in Warren.
Being six years older than George gave Dimitrios the upperhand when they went after each other, an advantage he held as he started his career as a long snapper at Ohio State in 2003.
"Naturally, it started from when we were little, just competing at everything - whether it was playing catch to throwing a football in a trash can to playing horse," Dimitrios said. "We were always competing, and he was always trying to beat me. For a good chuck of our lives, I was naturally bigger and faster just because of age."
Now, instead of competing against each other, the two are working together to help George reach his goal of becoming a National Football League player.
It all started when George played for the Warren G. Harding Raiders and Dimitrios for the Buckeyes. Dimitrios, a walk-on at Ohio State, had noticed George became bigger than he was and could snap just as well as he could, and while George hadn't even considered the possibility of playing college football, Dimitrios helped talk George into becoming a preferred walk-on at Ohio State in 2009.
It turned out to be a good decision as George started three years at long snapper for the Buckeyes.
"Sometimes, you just fall into good things," George said. "My brother pushed me to go to Ohio State because he saw the potential I had when I was younger. He saw that I was a little bit bigger than he was. My brother is a great snapper, and he saw that I could snap just as well as he could and I am six years younger than he was. So, if not for him, I probably wouldn't be here."
Not all was rosy during George's time at Ohio State, as it coincided with the transition between coaches Jim Tressel and Urban Meyer. He started the year under interim head coach Luke Fickell on both punts and field goals, but when Meyer took over in 2012, the 6-foot-2, 243-pound specialist split time with teammate Bryce Haynes. George snapped on field goals and pro-style punts, while Haynes took over the sprint-punt duties - where the snapper runs down the field after the punt.
Combined with the struggles academically at this time and the lack of a scholarship offer normally given to players who stepped onto the field under Tressel, George was in a tight spot. He managed to turn it around and earned the coaching staff's respect, however, enough so to get a scholarship for his senior season.
"It was a tough time, but my brother has always been a team player," Dimitrios said. "He loved playing with the Buckeyes. He had really good friends there. We even considered transferring him, but my brother wasn't having it. We actually spoke to Urban as a family. So, (George) pushed through, and it ended up being a great decision."
Following his collegiate career, George, who graduated from OSU in December with a Bachelor's degree in political science, has taken steps to perhaps make an NFL roster. He impressed scouts and special teams coaches at former NFL special teams coordinator Gary Zauner's Pro Development Camp in Arizona in January and at the Buckeyes' pro day on March 7.
His performances led to a few discussions with teams, including a Bengals coach who conducted most of the special teams drills for his pro day.
"I'm praying that hopefully, a team finds interest in me because the biggest thing no matter what is you can snap well," George said. "The Bengals coach seemed pretty interested, and I also had a call from the Bears because they have a 16-year veteran currently (in Patrick Mannelly). We'll see. We just have to hope."
While playing the waiting game, Dimitrios is acting as George's pseudo-agent, as the older brother has a law degree but can't sign contracts because he doesn't have a license to do so. Still, the 28-year-old lawyer put together his brother's highlight reel and gave it to teams that showed some interest, which was some of the advice he received from former OSU and current St. Louis Ram long snapper Jake McQuaide on how to get signed as a rookie free agent and eventually make an NFL roster.
"In the meantime, we're sending out his film to these people, especially the ones who showed interest on Pro Day, which was eight or nine teams - I wrote them down - and we followed up with them," Dimitrios said. "We're waiting around, but we're also trying to be proactive."
Although his brother has long since surpassed him athletically, Dimitrios harbors no resentment nor jealously toward George. In fact, Dimitrios is hoping a team takes a chance on the younger Makridis and signs him as rookie free agent once the NFL Draft ends May 10.
"I'm his biggest fan," Dimitrios said. "I can't imagine that I'm more proud than my dad, but I'm pretty close."