Tress Way, an undrafted free agent punter from Oklahoma, knows that competition in Chicago Bears 2013 Training Camp is tough but he’s always thrived on those types of challenges. During his senior year, Way put 22 of 53 total punts inside the 20 and his gross average was 44.2 yards, a Sooner football record. During Way’s college career, he had five punts of 70-plus yards including, one for 75 yards. While consistency has been an issue, he sure has demonstrated his strong leg in Bourbonnais.
Way tells Bear Report about his hopes for similar success with the Bears:
“I have to kind of pinch myself looking around here in Bourbonnais. This is the culmination of a dream of mine. I’ve been playing football since I was five. I’d always hoped to make it to the pros one day but ironically the sport I was thinking about early on was baseball, not football.
“I was good at baseball in grade school and high school and I enjoyed the game. I rotated around the lineup playing a number of positions, seeing where I felt most comfortable. The sport came relatively easy to me and I could see doing that going forward. At the same time I was playing football, doing what I am doing now as a kicker and punter.
“What made me decide on football? Easy answer there. Scouts came in from Oklahoma to see me and I ended up getting a scholarship in football. I grew up in Tulsa so the chance to play for the Sooners was tremendously exciting for me. My family, needless to say, was also thrilled. A full ride is a very important thing in today’s economy.
“Although some other scouts came by, I had no similar offer for baseball so it was an easy choice. Once that was in place, I scaled way back on the baseball and put my efforts into perfecting my football skills.
“Playing for Oklahoma was a high-pressure situation. There were huge crowds and great expectations. What I found there was that I thrived on competition. The more difficult something was, the harder I was going to try to succeed. It was difficult at times but the training was invaluable. I think that background is going to make this transition to the pros a lot easier.
“Camp is fun. Better than I’d expected. I was dreading the two-a-day practices but here, we’re done relatively early. Sure you’re up by around 6 a.m. and then you’re working late into the night, but that’s something I can handle. There are many meetings, a playbook to learn, the conditioning routine, then of course the on-field stuff.
“People have always kidded me that since I am a punter I don’t really need to work out. I wish sometimes that that was the case, but let me tell you, nobody is taking it easy on punters or kickers. We are expected to be in excellent shape. It’s easy to understand why. You perform at your best when you’re in shape and you also tend to prevent injuries when you’re well-conditioned.
“I’m viewing camp as a classroom. It’s my job to learn as much as I can as quickly as I can so I can contribute to this team. The vets are great in helping me out. Just now I was talking to Robbie Gould. How great is that? Robbie is a legend in the league. If I’m going to learn from somebody, he’d be the one I’d choose.
“Robbie’s incredibly patient with me and always seems to have time to help out. What we were discussing today was the importance of aiming the ball. It’s about so much more than pure power.
“In the NFL you are going to have great return guys like Devin Hester. If you aren’t very careful where that ball ends up on the field, the play will come back and bite you. It’s all about concentration and precision. To get to that point, you work on repetitions until you’ve got things right.
“Another factor that Robbie was talking about was the winds at Soldier Field. He said they shift suddenly and you have to be able to adjust your technique accordingly. I’m a lefty when I kick but that shouldn’t make any difference. The wind situation was the same at our home field at Oklahoma. Plus, I feel comfortable with quirky weather.
Because you weren’t drafted, do you have a chip on your shoulder?
“Honestly, I can say that I am so happy to be here that how I got here doesn’t make much difference. I’m a competitive guy and I’ll always go after the challenges. Maybe I do have a little edge as far as needing to prove that I belong, but that isn’t my primary motivation. I want to work until I’m the best.
“Why did the Bears pick me? I’m big, I have a strong leg, and I love to play football. I’m not afraid to learn. I’m not afraid to work.
“This is the beginning of a new life for me. I’m recently engaged (to OU soccer/softball star Brianna Turang). I’m at Bears training camp. I hang out with Devin Hester and Robbie Gould. Things don’t get much better than that.”
Beth Gorr has been covering the Bears for the last 12 years and is the author of Bear Memories: The Chicago-Green Bay Rivalry. She is currently working on a second book about early Bears history.