Corey Bojorquez has never been scared to compete

New Packers punter felt he grew from battle with All-Pro Johnny Hekker 

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P Corey Bojorquez

GREEN BAY – New Packers punter Corey Bojorquez had to make a choice after becoming a free agent in March.

Did he want a guaranteed punting job, or did he want to get better at punting?

Coming off a year with Buffalo in which Bojorquez led the NFL in gross yards (50.8 yards per punt) and tied for fifth in net yards (45.1), nobody would've blamed the fourth-year punter for biding his time in search of the easiest path to a 53-man roster.

Instead, in a move straight out of a Robert Frost poem, Bojorquez picked perhaps the most arduous road possible when he signed with the Los Angeles Rams in April.

It meant the 24-year-old punter would be pitted against four-time All-Pro Johnny Hekker, who last year was voted to the Associated Press 2010s All-Decade Team.

Bojorquez admits it was going to be "dang-near impossible" to beat Hekker for the job, but he wanted to learn from the best. If he played well, Bojorquez figured the rest would work itself out.

"There were a few other teams that could've worked something out (contract-wise), but LA I felt was the best place for me," said Bojorquez, who also hails from Southern California.

"Being able to be near home was kind of cool, but more just Johnny being there was a big factor in it because I felt like I was looking for ways to up my game for next season, and with the amount of success he's had, I figured at the very least if I go out there I can learn a lot from him."

A rare left-footed punter who's right-handed, Bojorquez is a dedicated student of the game. He's worked with retired pros such as punter Darren Bennett and kicker Michael Husted, while also studying two this era's best punters, Andy Lee and Hekker, extensively.

Despite the competition, Hekker was an open book in LA. He even gave Bojorquez pointers on how to execute his patented banana punt, a high-risk, high-reward version of an Aussie punt where the punter drops the ball sideways to get it to spin in a "S" or "banana" motion.

With Hekker on the COVID-19/reserve list, Bojorquez entered the Rams' preseason finale against Denver as the team's punter – and he decided to bust out the newest weapon in his arsenal.

In a matter of months, Bojorquez went for not having the courage to attempt the banana punt to feeling confident enough to give it a shot with 1 minute, 18 seconds left in the first half. He hit it perfectly, with Rams linebacker Christian Rozeboom downing the ball at the Denver 1-yard line.

Bojorquez wasn't done, either. In the third quarter, he rocketed a 70-yard punt that also went out of bounds just inside the Broncos' 1. He finished the preseason with a 51.9-yard net average on his seven punts, placing four inside the 20.

It was enough for even Hekker to wonder if Bojorquez might unseat him for the job he's held since 2012.

"Corey is a well-established, dominant punter in this league," said Hekker last Thursday. "I was really happy to have the opportunity to work for the few months that we did and compete with him. I think it did nothing but make us better as a team and individually.

"When I saw his success, I was very happy for him but on the other hand, I saw a little bit of writing on the wall that could be the team might go with this guy, and I could be having to find a new home here pretty soon."

Little has been handed to Bojorquez during his football career. Lightly recruited out of Mayfair (Calif.) High School, Bojorquez initially went to Cerritos College, a junior college in Norwalk, in hopes of landing at Cal Poly to pursue an engineering degree.

Instead, Bojorquez ended up at New Mexico. He punted two years for the Lobos before catching on with the New England Patriots in 2018 as an undrafted free agent. He was unsuccessful in his bid to unseat veteran Ryan Allen but showed enough to get claimed off waivers by the Bills.

Bojorquez enjoyed solid three-year run in Buffalo, where he established new franchise records with a 50.8 gross punting average last year and 34 punts placed inside the 20 in 2019.

Facing a tight cap situation, however, the Bills opted to non-tender Bojorquez in March. The Packers stuck with their plan to have JK Scott and Ryan Winslow compete for the punting job but kept their eye on Bojorquez from afar.

After releasing Scott last Tuesday, General Manager Brian Gutekunst swung a deal with the Rams to acquire Bojorquez.

"He had a fantastic year last year in Buffalo, did some really good things in cold-weather opportunities late in the year," Gutekunst said. "We know what he's done in the past. He had a really nice preseason and we're excited to get him up to speed at Lambeau and learn how to kick in this stadium."

Bojorquez has spent his first few days in Green Bay getting familiar with longtime Packers kicker Mason Crosby, whom he'll be holding for on field goals. He's also had a chance to meet quarterback Aaron Rodgers, whom Bojorquez once asked for a jersey swap after a game in 2018 at Lambeau Field.

The life of a specialist is not easy, but an uphill climb is nothing new for Bojorquez. He's used to overcoming odds and punting in the cold, and what better place to do both than Green Bay?

"Making it as a specialist in the first place is really tough," Bojorquez said. "It's not like most positions where you've got two or three of them on a team.

"It's something that I embrace and hopefully can continue that this season. It would be great to stay here long term, find a home."

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