Potter, O’Neill ready to go bowling

John Potter has put together quite a resume during his four-year career as the place kicker on the Western Michigan University football team.
Matt DeYoung
Dec 24, 2011

 

On Tuesday, Potter hopes to add another feat to his already-lengthy list of accomplishments — helping the Broncos will their first bowl game in program history.

Potter and teammate Dann O’Neill — both Grand Haven High School graduates — lead WMU into Ford Field on Tuesday afternoon to take on the Purdue Boilermakers in the Little Caesars Bowl. The game kicks off at 4:30 p.m. and will be televised on ESPN2.

The contest will mark the fifth bowl game in Broncos’ history. WMU lost to New Mexico in the Aviation Bowl in 1961; fell to Fresno St. in the California Bowl in 1989; came up short against Cincinnati in the International Bowl in 2007; and suffered a lopsided loss to Rice in the Texas Bowl in 2008.

“It would be awesome,” Potter said of a potential bowl win. “You never really know what it’s like to win a bowl game until you win it. We’ll see on the 27th. It’s a great opportunity. It would mean a lot for the program.”

Potter has already done plenty for the program. When he kicks off on Tuesday, it will mark his 50th appearance as a Bronco, tying the school record currently held by former long snapper Tom Harrington. A pair of teammates — punter Ben Armer and linebacker Mitch Zajac — will also play their 50th games for WMU in the Little Caesars Bowl.

Potter has also set numerous school records, from most points in a season to most consecutive PATs made in a career (his streak sits at 126 and counting). He also holds the program for record for tackles by a kicker with 35.

He hopes those accomplishments help him get a look by an NFL team once his college season wraps up.

“I’m going to start training here, and after our bowl game, I’ll probably talk to some agents and get something lined up,” he said. “I know there are some specialist combines that kicking coaches put on, and you can get your name out there. Then we have our pro day. We’ll see what happens. Hopefully I’ll get a tryout.”

For now, Potter is content to prepare for the Little Caesars Bowl. Just making a bowl game was reason for celebration for the Broncos, who were snubbed by various bowl committees a year ago.

“We had a banquet for our football team, and the Little Caesars mascot came running in,” Potter said. “That was the day all the BCS bowls were announced. We had to wait to find out. It was hard to wait that entire week. Every day we were checking projections. We were definitely excited to have one more game, especially being my senior year.”

One downer for the Broncos is that their bowl experience takes them less than 150 miles east on I-94 to Ford Field instead of a flight to a tropical location.

“Personally, I enjoy traveling, going to warm places, but I’m excited to play in Detroit,” Potter said. “We’ll have a great crowd. It’ll be great to be able to have all the family come down. I have maybe 15 family members coming down. Hopefully it’s going to be a packed crowd.”

Potter’s success at WMU has stretched well beyond the football field. Earlier this month, he became the sixth player in Western history to be named first-team Capital One Academic All-American. Potter boasts a 3.98 GPA in business and finance, which is the highest GPA on the team and one of the top 10 GPAs among all WMU student-athletes.

“Ever since my freshmen year, I’ve been hoping for academic All-American,” Potter said. “It’s great to finally get that award. It was a relief. First, I had to get academic all-district. I was hoping I’d be able to do that because it’s pretty competitive.”

O’NEILL READY TO BOWL

While Potter traveled with the Broncos to the Texas Bowl back in 2008, O’Neill is fired up to attend his first bowl game on Tuesday, and he doesn’t mind the short trip to Detroit.

“I was extremely happy, especially the fact that it’s in Detroit instead of New Mexico or Hawaii,” said O’Neill, referencing two other possible bowl locations for the Broncos. “This way we can get a better fan base. I’ve talked to a lot of students and they’ve said they’re going to come.

“Well, I guess playing in Hawaii would have been awesome, too.”

The Broncos actually leave for Detroit today and will spend the next several days preparing to face Purdue. Players will be given some time off on Sunday to celebrate Christmas with their loved ones.

“My family can actually come to the game instead of paying however much it would have been to get to Hawaii,” O’Neill said. “We have some time off on Christmas to hang out with our family if we’re there. Coach (Bill Cubit) is pretty adamant that we get some time off for that on Christmas.”

Reaching a bowl was a big deal for WMU, but that doesn’t mean the Broncos accomplished all they had hoped for this fall.

“One of our goals was to win the MAC championship, and obviously, we didn’t accomplish that,” O’Neill said. “But this was our best season since the year we went to the Texas Bowl. We’re happy to be 7-5, but with great players like (quarterback) Alex Carter, (receiver) Jordan White and Potter, we’re a little disappointed we didn’t win the MAC.”

O’Neill, a right tackle, can group himself in that list of great players, especially after being named first-team All-MAC by college football expert Phil Steele. White was also a first-team selection, as was WMU defensive lineman Drew Nowak. Potter was named the third-team all-conference kicker by Steele.

“I don’t understand that at all,” O’Neill said. “Potter is the best kicker in the MAC.”

The pair will get a chance to show off their talents to a national audience on Tuesday. The Little Caesars Bowl will be televised live on ESPN2.

 

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