Zoltan Mesko (American football)
Mesko during the 2011 NFL season.
|Date of birth:6 March 1986|
|Place of birth: Timișoara, Romania|
|High school: Twinsburg High School|
|NFL Draft: 2010 / Round: 5 / Pick: 150|
|Debuted in 2010 for the New England Patriots|
Career highlights and awards
Career NFL statistics as of Week 5, 2013
Zoltan Mesko (/ /; Hungarian pronunciation: [ˈmɛʃkoː ˈzoltaːn]; born 6 March 1986) is a Hungarian punter who most recently played for the Pittsburgh Steelers of the National Football League. He was drafted by the New England Patriots in the fifth round of the 2010 NFL Draft. He played college football at Michigan. A native of Romania, Mesko emigrated with his family to the United States and eventually settled in Ohio. There he was discovered as a potential kicker for his school's football team and became one of the best high school football kickers in the nation, excelling as both a punter and placekicker. After earning top honors in his state, Mesko was recruited by several college football teams. He selected Michigan over several schools including Indiana and USC.
At Michigan, Mesko did not win the starting job as a punter right away. He redshirted his freshman year and won a battle for the kicking duties on the field in 2006. Mesko has since gone on to excel on the field as a three-time Ray Guy Award watchlist candidate and off the field as a four-time Academic All Conference selection. He has also been recognized for his character and community service by numerous organizations. As a redshirt junior in 2008, Mesko endured the dynamics of a coaching change, became Michigan's all-time leader in punts and punting yardage, and was named to 2008 All-Big Ten first-team. As a fifth-year senior in 2009, he made a number of preseason All-American teams and achieved the highest punting average of his college career at 44.5 yards per punt. Mesko concluded his season as a 2009 All-Big Ten first-team selection by both the coaches and the media. He was also selected as a first-team Academic All-American and as a second-team All-American by several publications. He holds the career and single-season records for punts and punting yards at Michigan.
In the NFL, Mesko set an NFL rookie record for net punting yard average.
Mesko, who comes from the Hungarian minority in Romania, was born in Timișoara, where he lived with his family in 1989 during the revolutions leading to the fall of communism in the former Eastern Bloc and the overthrow of dictator Nicolae Ceauşescu in Romania. The family was so immersed in the middle of the crossfire that they often dodged bullets by getting on the floor in their apartment. Zoltan was just passing through toddlerhood at the time of the revolution so he does not remember much of the details, but the family stuffed windows with pillows during the conflict. Prior to the overthrow, the family dealt with the realities of communism, such as having to wait seven years to buy a car even though they had the money.
As a child, Mesko had a strong interest in soccer. His childhood heroes were Gheorghe Hagi and former NBA star Gheorghe Mureșan. At the age of twelve, he immigrated with his family to Ohio and Mesko was introduced to American football when he was spotted as a potential kicker in seventh grade gym class when he knocked out a light during a kickball game. Mesko is a left-footed kicker. Mesko, who could not distinguish a football from a rugby ball when he first arrived in the states, familiarized himself with the sport of American football via the television.
In 2003, Mesko earned Northeast Ohio Inland All-District Division II football team honorable mention recognition from the media while performing as a punter and placekicker for Twinsburg High School. He was also selected as Western Reserve North Division First-team by the coaches as well as the All-Summit County Team kicker. The Plain Dealer listed him as their first team kicker. During the year, he was 10 for 14 on field goals, while only missing one point after touchdown attempt and averaging 36 yards per punt. He placed 80% of his kickoffs in the end zone and maintained a 4.0 grade point average. During the season he made a 41-yard field goal and a game-winning 31-yard field goal. By the end of the season, he had started 31 consecutive games. Twinsburg qualified for the state playoffs for the first time in ten years thanks in part to a solid kicking game. During his junior year, he got his first recruiting feeler from Division III Mount Union College.
After his junior season, he compiled tapes of his best punts, field goals, and kickoffs and sent them to 86 schools, hoping for ten responses. As a result of his tapes, he received 14 invitations for campus visits. He attended 16 kicking camps during his junior/senior summer. On 6 June he attended an Indiana University camp and received a full scholarship offer from the Hoosiers. Subsequently, at the University of Michigan camp, he averaged 48.5 yards per punt and a 4.6 second average hang time and was offered a scholarship. During the visit he impressed coaches when he saw fifth-year punter Adam Finley kicking balls on the roof of the Michigan indoor practice facility and joined in by kicking four in a row over the building. Although, he was an Ohio State Buckeyes football fan, he was not sought after by the Buckeyes who had recruited a punter the prior year. He was also admitted to all of the Ivy League schools.
Mesko had a successful high school career and was ranked second among kickers in the 2005 recruiting class by Rivals.com and fourth among punters by Scout.com. He committed to Michigan on 28 June 2004, just before his senior year of high school. He committed to Michigan mainly as a punter. After committing to Michigan, he continued to be recruited by USC Trojans football. Over the course of his high school career, he evolved from a 155-pound (70.3 kg), 6-foot-2-inch (1.88 m) freshman into a 230-pound (104.3 kg), 6-foot-4-inch (1.93 m) senior.
As a senior, Mesko once punted a ball 70 yards in the air. As a senior punter and placekicker Mesko was a part of the focus of opposition game plans. He averaged 44 yards per punt as a senior and dropped 16 inside the 10-yard line according to The Plain Dealer and 15 inside the 15-yard line according to the Ann Arbor News. He was selected to play in the 15 January 2005 U.S. Army All-American Bowl as a punter. During the game he drew a roughing the kicker penalty and posted seven punts including kicks of 56, 48 and 47 yards and a pooch punt that he placed inside the 15-yard line. He was named an Associated Press Division II All-Ohio first-team punter. He was also selected to numerous local area All-star teams as both a punter and a placekicker. He served as both punter and kicker for the Ohio team during the 2005 Big 33 Football Classic in which he was 4 for 5 on PATs. He was recognized as the 2004 Northeast Inland All-District Division II first team punter by the media. He was selected as the All-Akron Beacon Journal team placekicker and the all-Summit County punter. The Akron area coaches selected him as both the punter and kicker for the All-Western Reserve Conference, North Division first-team. He was selected to the combined Summit-Medina-Portage Counties All-Area team as the first team punter by The Plain Dealer. He was the first team punter for The Plain Dealer All-area team. Although Mesko's high school required 40 hours of community service, he performed over 300 hours.
|Name||Hometown||High school / college||Height||Weight||40‡||Commit date|
|Twinsburg, Ohio||Twinsburg (OH)||6 ft 4 in (1.93 m)||230 lb (100 kg)||--||Jun 28, 2004|
|Overall recruiting rankings: Scout: 4 (P) Rivals: 2 (PK/P), 36 (OH)|
Lloyd Carr era
Prior to the 2005 season, it appeared that the Michigan Wolverines would use three kickers: Garrett Rivas for field goals and extra points, Ross Ryan for kickoffs and Mesko for punting, but redshirt junior Ryan beat out Mesko and junior Mark Spencer for the punting duties. Mesko redshirted as a freshman at Michigan in 2005, while Ryan ranked last in the Big Ten for the 2005 season with a 38.3 yard average.
Entering the 2006 season for Michigan, head coach Lloyd Carr could not decide between Mesko and Ryan. In the team's opening game against Vanderbilt, Mesko punted three times and Ryan once. The two shared the kicking duties for the first four games with Mesko recording 12 punts and Ryan recording 9. In the fifth game of the season, against the Minnesota Golden Gophers for the Little Brown Jug, Mesko handled all of the punting duties. Ryan punted only five more times the rest of the season. Mesko finished the season fourth in the Big Ten and 38th in the nation in punting average. Mesko earned Academic All-Big Ten Conference recognition for earning a letter while maintaining a 3.0 average during the fall.
Prior to the 2007 season, Mesko adjusted his kicking technique to a straight motion instead of a cross-over like National Football League punters. He was a preseason Ray Guy Award watchlist nominee. After Rivas graduated, the 2007 Michigan Wolverines football team had a battle for the placekicking duties for the 2007 season between redshirt freshman Bryan Wright and two walk-ons. When the team had two fourth quarter field goal attempts blocked during their season-opening 34–32 loss to the two-time defending FCS champion Appalachian State Mountaineers, Mesko was an uninvolved third stringer but handled punting duties. Mesko finished the season fifth in the Big Ten in punting average, and was again Academic All-Conference.
Rich Rodriguez era
When Rich Rodriguez arrived to replace the retired Carr prior to the 2008 season, he announced the Wolverines would be using a new punting formation along with the spread offense. Instead of using two gunners, the team switched to using six, and Mesko switched to rolling out and using directional kicks. The plan called for a mixture of employing traditional pocket punts and roll out for rugby style ones. Mesko said the changes to the team were so drastic under Rodriguez that he felt like he had transferred. On all seven of his punts in the opening game against Utah, Mesko rolled out to his left before punting. The new punt scheme was part of the option offense and could have resulted in a fake punt. In Michigan's third game against Notre Dame on 13 September, Mesko executed an option run for 13 yards and a first down. Mesko also executed a seven-yard option run for a first down against Minnesota on 8 November in the Little Brown Jug game. Mesko had a couple of punts blocked during the season, and one was returned for a touchdown during the Michigan – Ohio State game. During the season, Mesko served as K.C. Lopata's holder on placekicks. Mesko repeated a Guy Award watchlist candidate in 2008. After the list was narrowed from fifty to ten, Mesko was a semifinalist for the award. Mesko led the Big Ten in punting average and finished twentieth in the nation. He was named to the Big Ten All Conference First-Team in 2008. He was recognized by Phil Steele as a fourth team All-American for 2008. Mesko was Academic All-Conference for a third time. At the conclusion of the 2008–09 academic year, the inaugural class of Big Ten Distinguished Scholars was recognized for having attained a 3.7 GPA for the academic year while earning varsity letters, and Mesko was among the honorees.
As a senior, Mesko entered the 2009 NCAA Division I FBS football season opener with the most career starts (38) on the 2009 Michigan Wolverines football team. He served as the first special teams performer to be captain in the 130-year history of Michigan football. In 2009, Mesko was again a Guy Award watchlist candidate for the Wolverines. He was also a pre-season Playboy All-American and NationalChamps.net first-team All-American. On 11 October 2009, he was named Big Ten Conference special teams player of the week for averaging 53.8 yards on five punts at Iowa. He was a 2009 Allstate Good Works Team honoree for his outstanding civic contributions to the local community and a 2009 Lowe's Senior Class Award Finalist for classroom, community, character and competition excellence. At the midpoint in the Wolverines' Big Ten schedule, Mesko ranked fifth in the nation and first in the Big Ten in punting average. In November, Mesko was named a one of 10 semifinalists for the Ray Guy Award and one of 12 finalists for the Wuerffel Trophy. In eight conference games Mesko averaged 45.2 yards/punt, which was the first time a Michigan punter led the Big Ten in Conference game punting average since Paul Staroba in 1970. Although the team played twelve games, Mesko only accumulated stats in eleven since the team did not punt a single time in its 17 October 63–6 victory against the Delaware State Hornets. He was selected by both the coaches and the media to the first-team All-Big Ten Conference team. Mesko was named one of three finalists for the Ray Guy Award along with Drew Butler and Chaz Henry. Mesko was honored as a fall term of the 2009-10 Academic All-Conference selection. He was also one of fifteen Football Bowl Subdivision athletes and six Big Ten athletes selected as a first-team Academic All-American. He was the second-team All-American punter selection by the Walter Camp Football Foundation, the Associated Press, Scout.com, and Rivals.com. He was an honorable mention All-American by Sports Illustrated, Pro Football Weekly, and College Football News. He finished the season ranked eighth in the nation and first in the Big Ten in punting average. On 31 December 2009, he one of 22 players recognized as a member of the Allstate AFCA Good Works Team, which rewards public service and volunteer work.
Mesko is Michigan's career leader in punts and punting yardage and is second only to Monte Robbins in punting average. He is also the Michigan single-season punts (80) and punting yards (3436) record holder. His 44.46 was a school single-season record that lasted three years until Will Hagerup surpassed it. Mesko ranks ninth all-time in career punts and seventh in punting yardage in Big Ten Conference history. At the close of his collegiate career, Mesko was rated the number one punter prospect for the 2010 NFL draft by Scouts.com.
|Ht||Wt||Arm length||Hand size||40-yd dash||10-yd split||20-yd split||20-ss||3-cone||Vert||Broad||BP|
|6 ft 4 in||240 lb||34 in||10 in||16 reps|
|All values from NFL Scouting Combine.|
New England Patriots
2010 to 2012
Mesko was drafted by the New England Patriots in the fifth round (150th overall) of the 2010 NFL Draft. He was the first punter or placekicker drafted and the second Wolverine drafted (Graham was the first) in the 2010 draft. He signed a four-year contract on 16 June 2010.
In Week 6 of his rookie season, Mesko set a season-long with a 65-yard punt in overtime that gave the Baltimore Ravens the ball at their own 19-yard line. The Ravens would not convert a first down, punting back to the Patriots who scored to win the game on the ensuing drive.
The 2010 Patriots were the seventh-highest scoring team in NFL history; as a result, Mesko punted just 58 times, 26th in the league. Of those punts, 19 were downed inside the 20, while 5 were touchbacks. Mesko finished his rookie season with a gross punting average of 43.2 yards, and net average of 38.4 yards, the highest net average for a rookie in NFL history. During the 2011 NFL Lockout, Mesko, a finance and marketing major in college, interned as a private equity analyst with Graham Partners in Philadelphia. Mesko also served as the Patriot's holder.
Mesko was fighting for the punter position with undrafted rookie Ryan Allen. Mesko did not survive the final cuts. Bleacher Report claims that the reason for the cut was that if Mesko had stayed for his fourth year, he would have made $1.3 million, while Allen would only cost $405,000.
On September 2, 2013, Mesko was signed to the Pittsburgh Steelers active roster. Mesko had grown up a Steelers fan although he lived in Cleveland and wore a Steelers jacket that he had purchased at Walmart during his youth. Mesko was released from the Steelers on October 29, 2013. Mesko's punting had been statistically poor and he had had some recent troubles on specific plays that upset Steelers coach Mike Tomlin. Mesko was replaced by Mat McBriar.
Zoltán is of Hungarian descent. In the mid-1990s, his parents, Michael and Elisabeta Mesko, were highly educated engineers in Romania. The family supplemented its income selling homemade clothes in the market. His father was also a professional nine-pin bowler. On 8 May 1997, when Zoltan was 11, his family moved from his native Romania after Michael Mesko won a United States Permanent Resident Card (green card) in the Diversity Immigrant Visa lottery for the single child family to move to the United States. The Meskos now have jobs that pay well. The family spent the first year and half in New York City before moving to Ohio for better jobs. Zoltan speaks Romanian, Hungarian, German and English and is conversant in Spanish. He learned to speak English by watching television. He was schooled at a German school in Timișoara, which was then Romania's second-largest city. His parents taught him Hungarian and he spoke Romanian with his friends. Mesko completed a Bachelor of Business Administration in finance and marketing from the University of Michigan's Ross School of Business in 2009. He completed a master's degree in sports management from the University of Michigan School of Kinesiology in April 2010. Mesko is Roman Catholic and wears a medallion of his patron saint, St. Anthony of Padua. In June 2013, he appeared on Barstool Sport's Bro Show, punting to the bloggers.
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- Profile (NFL) at ESPN.com
- Michigan Wolverines bio
- New England Patriots bio
- Profile (college) at ESPN.com
- Profile at CBS Sports
- Profile at Rivals.com
- Stats at NCAA.org
- Candidate profile for Lowe's Senior CLASS Award
- Mesko archive at AnnArbor.com