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Winning over Kansas City players, fans, old foes, Dustin hopes to repeat as NFL net punt champ

There’s nothing like a little Kansas City camaraderie to break the ice of a bitterly personal Vols-Crimson Tide rivalry.

Even as you’re turning into ice in Arrowhead Stadium come November Sundays in the NFL.

Among Dustin Colquitt’s Kansas City Chiefs teammates, “Now it was Brodie Croyle — that was kinda a tough thing to swallow, him being an Alabama boy,” said Colquitt, former Bearden Bulldog and UT Volunteer standout punter who led the NFL in net punting last fall, about the ex-Alabama Crimson Tide starting quarterback (2003-05).

“When he first got there [2006], we were really standoffish, we didn’t talk a whole lot,” Colquitt added. “We’d always view each other like, ‘I don’t like you very much.’ … He kinda despised me and I despised him.

“But once you kinda get in the league and you’re on the same team, he’s been a really great friend to me. I enjoy hanging out with him, and my wife [Christia] loves his fiancé. … Me and Christia [drove] down for his wedding … in Jackson, Mississippi.

“He’s a good guy, and it’s been fun to have another guy from the south out there.”

A third-round draft pick in 2005, Colquitt, 25, struggled a bit his rookie season before earning his stripes last year with a league-leading 39.3-yard net punting average.

“I think the first, rough year kinda paved my way to work harder in the off-season,” the 6-foot-3, 210-pounder said. “I think with that year under my belt, I got to kick in a lot of different places, different elements, environments.”

In addition to the normal pressures of NFL life in the early days of training camp, “I think one of the things that kinda made it even tougher was that I was a third-round draft pick, and that doesn’t happen a whole lot to a punter getting drafted that high,” Colquitt said. “It set a whole level of expectations from fans, from the upper office and the Chiefs organization.

“Carl Peterson [team president/general manager/CEO], Dick Vermeil [then head coach] and Frank Ganzs, my first special teams coach in Kansas City, really got up on the board and said, ‘we don’t need to look at this guy just as a punter because he delivers very good field position. We can look at this as another defense,’” Colquitt added.

“A lot of a people in college had a little bit of a problem with the ball coming down left-footed, it’s a little different. They kinda sold to the media and to the fans, ‘this is not just another specialist, this is another defensive pick. Good field position makes it easier on everybody.’”

However, many KC players were skeptical.

“When I first got there they were like, ‘man, this kid better be good, third-round pick, I don’t know?’” he said. “You do get a little flak at first, but as long as you’re performance fits the bill, you’re O-K.”

But being a high punting pick isn’t new to the Colquitt clan.

“My dad was a third-round pick with the [Pittsburgh] Steelers in 1978,” Colquitt said of former Vol standout Craig Colquitt, who earned two Super Bowl rings.

“I love pressure, I kinda thrive off that,” he added. “I’ve trained myself to really kinda rely on pressure — that’s why I’m doing better now.”

There were other adjustments.

“[As] I went into my rookie year … my senior year at Tennessee I kinda had a lot of injuries, a groin and a hamstring pull,” Colquitt said. “… I didn’t get to kick at all going into the combine before my rookie year. I was still trying to get my swing back.”

In the NFL, “Just a whole new, different game,” Colquitt said. “It’s business. It’s tough to mix business and football, but you have to get used to it in the N-F-L. In college, it’s fun, camaraderie, playing with guys from different schools — now you’re getting paid to do that. If you don’t produce, you’re gone. It’s a whole new level of concentration.

“And I’m from Knoxville, I’d never been away, so leaving and going halfway across the country into a new place then going four-and-a-half weeks to training camp was all new.”

As for the elements, Colquitt said various opposing punters who visited Arrowhead Stadium approached him after a game: “They’re like, ‘Colquitt, you can have this place.’ That’s one of the main responses I get about Kansas City, because it is a colder place, it’s wide open, it’s windy,” Colquitt said. “But I think that’s helped me when I’ve gone into other places like Denver. Kansas City’s a good testing ground for all environments.”

Colquitt’s first and only playoff game experience came in the shrine of Peyton Manning last January, the RCA Dome in Indianapolis, against the eventual Super Bowl champion Colts.

Friends with County Music singer Kenny Chesney, Colquitt said he and Christia raised some interesting topics with the singer.

“Kenny was telling me that Peyton just loves Indianapolis and how supportive the fans were,” Colquitt said. “That’s pretty much the loudest indoor stadium in the country. When we showed up in Indianapolis, those people were going crazy. Peyton played well and managed the game well, and I got to talk to him afterwards.

“That being my first [playoff game], I can say that was one of the more exciting games I’ve ever played in.”

Colquitt’s 2007 goal is to duplicate 2006, his league-leading net punting average. And a bit more.

“If I can get a 40-yard net, that’s not been done in the N-F-L for decades,” he said. “I’d also like to get a few more inside the 20.”

Approaching the final year of his three-year contract with the Chiefs, “I’d love to re-sign,” Colquitt said. “The Kansas City community’s been great to my family, and the organization’s been great to me. We’ve been pretty happy in the community.”

Off the field, Colquitt is involved in Tender Loving Care, “they work with homeless kids in the community,” he said. “God’s blessed me with a great job, and I try to keep money as far away from my emphasis as possible.”

Colquitt and Christia — a former UT Dance Team member who the punter met “at a fraternity boxing match” — have an 8-month-old son, Brinkley.


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