Anyone in Eccles Coliseum on game day has heard the chants.
“That’s our punter! That’s our punter!”
When Jake Gerardi takes the field, the Southern Utah University football fans are on their feet. He takes it in, knowing that he is one of very few punters to get the love and attention he does. He was never planning to be at SUU, though, nor was he hoping to be a punter.
Born in Oceanside, California, Jake Gerardi was always around football. His father Rick played at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas and became a high school football coach. That allowed Gerardi to develop a love for the game at an early age. Gerardi was a natural-born athlete and has played several sports throughout the course of his life.
Gerardi competed in both soccer and track and field during his time at Oceanside High School, but soccer was what stuck out to him the most. He was on the varsity soccer roster as a goalkeeper from the time he was a sophomore but did not see the field until his junior year. Though he played just two years with the varsity team, he was good at what he did. He held his opponents to 28 shutouts in 48 total games and had an overall goals against average of .646. In the net, collected 155 saves over the two seasons.
“I loved goalkeeper,” Gerardi said. “If it paid as much money as football, I would have played soccer.”
The Oceanside Pirates’ football team also benefited from having Gerardi on their side. He made an appearance as a varsity kicker when he was a sophomore but did not become an everyday player until his junior year. He started seeing playing time on all sides of the ball. Between being a wide receiver, defensive end, and kicker, he barely had time to catch his breath. On the offensive side, he had 40 receptions over his junior and senior year combined and averaged 20.4 yards per catch. On defense, he had 37 total tackles in 25 overall games. His kickoffs totaled to 6,626 yards, and as a punter, he landed his opponents within their own 20-yard line 24 times.
After high school, Gerardi found himself at Azusa Pacific University in 2017. He was listed on the Cougars’ football roster as both a tight end and a kicker. He performed a few kickoffs in his freshman year and averaged 57.7 yards per kick before taking a redshirt season in 2018. In his junior year, Gerardi became the go-to kicker for kickoffs and punts. His kickoffs averaged 59.3 yards, and he punted for over 50 yards five times. Though he had hoped to, he never saw the field as a tight end. Azusa Pacific’s football program ended after the 2019 season, and Gerardi had quite a few choices to make.
“It was a decision of do I want to keep playing DII football as a tight end or move up to the DI level and just be a kicker? I really wanted to go to the next level,” he said.
After sending film to all of the teams in the Big Sky Conference at the time, he arrived at SUU.
“When I was in high school, I was getting recruited by a lot of Big Sky schools. It was kind of close to home and was just something I knew,” Gerardi said.
He made his debut with the Thunderbirds in the spring of 2021 after the spread of COVID-19 delayed the start of the 2020-21 football season. The short, six-game season only allowed Gerardi 22 punts and four kickoffs, but the fall of 2021 provided a larger sample size of his abilities. He averaged about 43 yards in his 46 punts, just two yards below the NFL average.
Between 2021 and 2022 came considerable improvement. This past fall was his final season of college football, and he averaged 48 yards per punt. That put him six yards above the Division I average and three yards above the NFL average. Gerardi’s longest punt of the year was for 73 yards, the longest in the Western Athletic Conference. He also had the best average yards per punt by five yards and punted for over 50 yards 20 separate times.
Gerardi’s performance in 2022 earned him several awards. He was named the WAC Special Teams Player of the Week twice and the WAC Special Teams Player of the Year. On top of that, he earned All-WAC First Team honors. He was also named an FCS All-American by both HERO Sports and the Associated Press.
“I didn’t know that was an award,” Gerardi said about winning the WAC Special Teams Player of the Year. “I was ecstatic about it. You don’t usually see people going crazy about what a punter does.”
Gerardi is hopeful that his resume can land him in the NFL in the near future. For now, he is working on getting a business up and running and hopes to start a family.
“I’m thankful for my parents and my girlfriend for supporting me the entire time. It’s been a blast in Southern Utah. It was a special feeling I got here as a punter that I don’t think a lot of punters get to feel,” he said.
Regardless of what happens in his future, Gerardi will always keep this season as one to remember.
Story and photos by: Anden Garfield