JACKSONVILLE — Jacksonville State's Jason Pierce leads the Ohio Valley Conference in punting average, but on some days, he's still not sure if he's even the best punter on his own team.
Pierce has battled teammate and friend Preston Knight, an Alabama transfer, for the job all season.
For now, the job belongs to Pierce, a sophomore who has punted 39 times for a league-leading average of 42.6 yards. He has had 10 punts go at least 50 yards, and nobody else in the OVC has more than seven.
Knight has punted 12 times, with a slump bringing down his average to 37.6.
"He's a great punter, and me and him are very equal in everything," Pierce said. "We'll go days where he'll average a few yards more than me, and the next day, I'll average more. It doesn't feel like I have the job solidified. … We're both very equal. It's been great to have that competition."
Pierce earned the OVC's specialist of the week honor after JSU's 30-12 win over North Alabama. He punted five times for a 41.4-yard average, with two going inside the 20-yard line. He probably deserved the award when JSU beat Murray State 14-12 in the rain. He kicked five times for 46.6 yards a punt and placed three inside the 20. Instead, Eastern Kentucky place-kicker Samuel Hayworth took the honor that week for making four field goals, although none longer than 35 yards.
"He's been very good," JSU coach John Grass said. "In the rain, I felt was a game-changer in the win against Murray, flipping the field with the 69-yarder in the first half. He's been consistent all year. He does a great job for us."
Pierce said he's worth hard on consistency. He has managed at least one punt inside the 20 in the last seven games. For the year, he has 14 inside the 20 with only two going into the end zone for touchbacks. That means 36 percent of his punts are going inside the 20.
The only punter in the league doing significantly better is Murray State's Steve Dawson, who has had 21 of his 47 punts go inside the 20 with one touchback. That's 45 percent.
"I've worked on consistency. That's the biggest thing in punting is being consistent at your job," Pierce said, adding that he appreciates his solid chemistry with long-snapper Josh Brady in helping him do his job well.
Actually, Pierce has done his job so well that he was called in to participate in this week's regular Monday game-week news conference. That's a bit unusual, considering the position he plays.
"I thought it was different for a punter to be coming in, but I'm glad to be here," he said.