NC State specialist roundtable

NC State senior kicker Niklas Sade, senior punter Wil Baumann and senior long snapper Scott Thompson, were all brought to NC State on scholarship and have started since their freshmen years. The trio has only missed one game together over the past three seasons, and were one of the Wolfpack's few bright spots in 2013.
The Wolfpacker sat down with the trio of specialists earlier this summer to interview the three for a feature story in our 162-page football preview magazine, which can be bought online here (current magazine subscribers can also read the issue online now). Here are some of the highlights of a 45-minute interview with the three:
It's obviously pretty rare that a school brings in a trio of specialists in on scholarship, but that's what happened in 2011. How aware of each other were you before coming to NC State, did you at least know of each other?
Scott Thompson We all kind of went to the same camps, but we never went to the same camp at the same time. We were all ranked on the same website, so it was kind of cool seeing all of that and being able to look them up. I think we all added each other on facebook right before we got here, and that was definitely cool. We started talking a little bit. Nik and I ended up being roommates and it was interesting.
Wil Baumann: I don't know if I talked to Nik at all at the Las Vegas camp. Our parents met and I saw him from a distance during the field goal competition. I don't think I was committed at that point, but I at least knew who he was. It worked out later on that we were teammates.
Nik Sade: I knew Wil just because he was a North Carolina guy — I knew his name, but I had never met him really. I didn't know Scott until I was committed, then I started getting in contact with him. I knew of Wil getting recruited and everything.
Were you guys aware of how unique of a situation it was for three specialists to come in at the same time on scholarship?
NS: Yeah, I was looking around at schools and, for me, it was where I could start immediately. For a spot for all three of us to do that, it was pretty crazy.
ST: I didn't realize how unique of a situation it was until we got older and I started seeing less and less schools doing it. I was like, 'that was pretty intense, we all just got thrown into the fire.' We all had to perform but I think we all did pretty well for being that young and that inexperienced.
WB: Just the fact that all three of us got scholarships, as well. There were probably other schools where there all freshmen starting, but one was a walk-on or earned a scholarship; we all earned our scholarships and started as three freshmen. I think only one other school in the country did the same thing as us with three freshmen starting at our positions; that was when it hit me that we were doing something special.
ST: It was Kansas, I think.
WB: Colorado, I thought.
ST: I know Kansas had a similar situation, but I think one was a redshirt freshman and the other two were true freshmen.
TW: For the North Carolina guys, did you grow up NC State fans?
WB: It was just a good fit for me. I was looking for a school close by, I was not really a fan of any particular college. I was hoping for a local one and State was the best option I had.
NS: I actually grew up a State fan once we moved here. My brother became a Duke fan, my other one became a UNC fan and I became a State fan. We all kind of picked our schools, so I grew up a State fan. I initially went with Nebraska but I started thinking about it and I wanted to stay here - I grew up watching games here, I loved the fans here and I loved everything about here. I decided I thought it was best to stay home with family and friends, it ended up being a great decision and I'm grateful for coming here.
What was everybody's first impression of the other?
ST: Freshmen year, all of the freshmen had to live at Owen Hall. So Nik and I were roommates and Wil was roommates with Brian Taylor. It was definitely an interesting experience the first year for Nik and I, rooming together, I know that. Sophomore year, we all moved in together to an apartment and lived there. Junior year, they lived together and I lived in a house with a couple of other teammates. Now, we're all together again for our senior year so it comes full circle.
I think it's good, we all wanted to get back together. Our personalities and everything mesh really well. We don't really get in each other's way, we just kind of know, 'this what he's doing tonight, this is what I'm doing tonight,' or whatever.
NS: It also helps when one of us goes, 'I'm going to go out and kick,' so the other two will come out with you; we'll go snap, kick and punt. That's easy so we all have the same plan and schedule pretty much.
You said it was interesting with Nik and Scott lived together freshman year, why was that?
ST: We just butted heads on some stuff. Nik always likes to say you can't put two alphas in the same room, so I think that was definitely part of it. We were both too stubborn to shift on things.
What were some of the early disagreements about?
ST: Sleeping stuff...
NS: Top bunk or something like that.
ST: Yeah, little things, ticky tack things. But it made us closer; now we go to spring break together and everything.
Do you guys feel you get along so well now just because you've been around each other so much; you've been together four years and are together pretty much all of the time on the football field?
NS: Yeah, I think that helps.
ST: We didn't have a choice, but I love these guys. I wouldn't trade them for anyone else in the country. Just going out on the field every day and working with these guys is great; I just want to help them out as much as I can.
How much can Nik and Wil help each other out on the field? Kicking and punting are obviously different, but there have to be some shared mechanics and ideas.
WB: I'm not a kicker so it's hard for us to talk about kicking, but I hold for him so whenever we go out and work out, I hold for him and look for each other. We know enough about kicking and punting that we can look at each other's form and look at the basics.
NS: We know the little stuff. If he's doing something, I just tell him to tweak a little bit here and there or just to look out for it, so he can start thinking about it. We can help each other with minor adjustments.
WB: Also, just the mentality that comes with being a kicker and a punter is pretty much the same thing, so we can help each other with that aspect.
NS: We can't help Scott with that aspect, though.
WB: Nah, not Scott...
NS: But he's got it figured out.
ST: Really, I help these two. I know everything about kicking [laughs].
You mentioned getting thrown into the fire, how much pressure did you feel as freshmen going out there and being asked to do the jobs that you were?
WB: I didn't really think about it too much the first game, I was just focused on hitting the ball I think. I look back on that year and it wasn't the best year, but it was a year I think we built a lot of experience and chemistry with one another. It wasn't great, but it was a needed year just to get used to the environment around here and used to playing in front of all of these people.
ST: I definitely wasn't expecting for me to be as nervous as I was. That first game, I was getting ready to run out of the tunnel and my legs were just shaking. The only thing I was thinking running out of the tunnel was, 'don't trip, don't trip, don't trip.' Then, going onto the field for first snap, I just snapped it and ran downfield; I ran off the field and my legs were just going a million miles a minute. My adrenaline was just pumping, but it was definitely fun and an experience I'll never forget, my first game.
NS: I don't think it really hit me until that first field goal I made. Everybody was cheering and I just sat there thinking, 'this is pretty crazy.' I tried to be calm about it, I tried to just think about getting the ball up there, 'just don't shank one, everyone's watching you, don't shank it.' But it was a great experience playing that first season coming in.
How long did it take until you started feeling comfortable with each other?
ST: Those guys would probably have a better answer. For me, I just throw it between my legs and they're the ones that have to get comfortable to me.
WB: He can snap the ball pretty quick, I'll say that. But I was used to it by the first game. Fall camp, I was like, 'man this guy can whip the ball back here.' It made it easier on me, to be honest so it wasn't that hard to transition into — holding was just the new thing for me.
You had never done it before?
WB: No, I had not done it before. It was pretty rough the first couple of weeks doing it, but somehow I got the hang of it before the first game, probably the day before. I think we had one little mishap, but I think we learned a lot from that.
ST: We did, we did. It was a combination [of whose fault it was]. It was definitely a low snap.
WB: It was first game jitters, but we got out of it.
ST: I just remember it was low and inside, he patted it down and then shuffled it over and then Nik pelted Rob Crisp in the back of the head with the ball. Running off the field, Tom O'Brien was screaming at me, 'you've got one job, do it right!' It was like the first thing he ever said to me.
NS: It did not matter, and we got that out of the way.
So Nik, how long did it for you to be comfortable with these two?
NS: I always trusted them. I just kind of trust them, so I don't really focus on them. Like Wil said, the first few weeks, you're trying to figure some stuff out. He just got thrown in there holding - and I've tried to hold, it's not that easy - but he did a really good job with it and now they're perfect with everything they do. Even if there's a little mishap, they can fix it easily and be perfect. Now when I go up, I don't even have to think about it; I know the ball is going to be there every time the same way I want it and the way I want it. It makes my job a lot easier, and I've always trusted them since freshman year. I don't have to worry about that and that's a big part to me staying rhythm.
ST: [Former special teams coordinator Jerry Petecuskie] made sure freshman year that all three of us got a lot of reps because we were freshmen and especially since he was getting thrown into a position he had never been before. I think Wil might have lied to 'Cuskie a little bit and said, 'I've held a little bit.'
WB: I wanted more playing time, maybe.
ST: 'Cuskie just wanted to do it because it was easy - all three of us were already down there on the field. It was just easy for us to work with instead of having to bring a backup quarterback down, it was something we could work on all day no matter what.
NS: Now you can add it to your resume.
So you wanted to hold, Wil?
WB: I can't remember. I just remember I gave it a shot and they said, 'you better start learning quick because you're going to be doing it.' I said well that's a good enough reason for me.
NS: It's worked out.
WB: Just being the punter, I'm around them all of the time so why not learn to hold? A lot of punters in the NFL do it, it's just what they do. Just being around them all of the time, I'm there whenever they need somebody to hold and another player might not take it as serious.
Me being a punter, I think I understand the importance of how Nik wants the ball and I know all of the little details that go into the kick. Another guy who isn't a specialist might now understand how nitpicky we are with some things. When Nik says turn the ball a little this way or lean it that way, I understand the importance behind it. I try to get what he wants.
You've talked about how you all were thrown into the fire as freshmen, then improved as sophomores, but did each of you feel as if last year was your best yet?
WB: I say it was a better improvement from my first two years, but there's still a lot left in the bag that I'm going to pull out this year. If I focus on the little things and do them right, there will be some big results. That's my goal for this year - continuing to improve, that's been my thing. I'm just looking for an improvement this year.
ST: I just put a lot of un-needed pressure on me. In the beginning of the season , I felt really good with everything then I just kept putting more and more pressure on myself to hit the same spot every time. It ended up not being good for my head then I just fizzled out at the end obviously. This year, I'm just going into it with a clear mind, staying level because there's no need to put that much pressure on yourself.
NS: I'd say freshman year was average. Then in my eyes, sophomore slump hit me - that was a bad season for me in my eyes. I worked really hard that offseason to be more accountable, to be more consistent, to be a better teammate doing my job. I had high expectations coming in and I wanted to play to my potential that I thought I was capable to. I worked really hard last offseason and I was pretty happy with the season I put in; I 'm just trying to repeat that, maybe be even better - I'm trying to be perfect.
You had to have been happy with your season after being named All-ACC honorable mention and team MVP?
NS: I was happy with that. Now we have one more year, so I'm trying to repeat and be even better than last season. I want to keep going from there.
How much pride do you two take in what Nik accomplished last year?
WB: I love it, he's representing us.
ST: I'm definitely happy for him and happy that he can bounce back like he did last year after sophomore season. I know he wanted to. It was interesting to watch - it was a different focus for him. All of the sudden, he just zoned in. It was cool to see.
You could tell a difference?
ST: I could easily. It was like he just locked in when he went out there; he meant business. Not saying he didn't sophomore season, but it was just like he was a different person.
Now Scott was named an All-American, how proud were you two of that?
WB: I was the proudest punter in the country because I've got the best snapper in the whole country.
NS: We still give him a hard time because his face isn't [in the Murphy Center] on a plaque. I still give him a hard time every time we walk by, but he's definitely the best snapper in the country. We're happy that we have him and he's also a great teammate.
You guys said you spend a lot of time together - even off the field. Do you think that chemistry carries over onto the field?
ST: Definitely, I think so.
WB: Just going out there and playing with some of your best friends...obviously you have your teammates and your other friends on the team, but then you have your close friends. You're also so interconnected with them because of what we do with the snapping, holding and kicking's. It's just an indescribable experience, I guess. They're the people you live with, your best friends, you're playing football with them - you can't really ask for anything else above that.
NS: I think the chemistry off the field definitely comes on the field, with just trusting each other.
ST: That trust and feeling like you're accountable to that person off the field. That's a huge thing.
What have the last three years been like for you guys at NC State?
NS: I don't think I can even put it into words, it's just been a great experience.
ST: I wouldn't trade it for anything. My brother is at UCLA and I know all of these people at different schools across the country; but I just love it here. I wouldn't trade anything in the world for coming here and going to State. It's been the best decision of my life.
WB: There are no words for it. It's life-defining - on the field, off the field, classroom, friends, the community - it just shapes the person you are and influences your life so much.
Do you look back on it as a positive that you found a situation where there was three of you coming in at the same time?
ST: I definitely do because I have friends across the country, like I'm sure they do, and they have the senior kicker or the junior kicker when they go in and that guy kind of shows them the ropes. Instead of having a coach, they just have older guys show them how to do it, then they get a new one and it just kind of rotates. I couldn't be happier with our situation because we've been able to grow together, watch each other grow and not have to worry about one of us leaving and replacing the other because we all came in at the same time.
WB: Not having to adjust to a new person in our unit - you don't really think about it a whole lot - but we've never had a different kicker, snapper or punter, it's the same year-in and year-out, and it's only going to improve. It's been us three for the last four years.
NS: It definitely helps with consistency and trust, everything. We can all push each other all of the time. It's good because I know kids from different schools and he was a freshman or sophomore going in, and the snapper or holder was a senior; the kicker wanted to go out with him all the time but he didn't want to work. He already knew what he was doing, but for us, it's good because almost every time we go out, we're together pretty much. We always try to go out together, so we always have the same pieces there - Scott with the same snap every time, Wil with the same hold every time; it's building consistency for us and we don't ever have to change anything out. Plus, us three being friends, we're always there with each other and never have to adjust someone new coming in or leaving. We haven't had that sad goodbye yet.
What did you all think when the new coaches came in?
ST: I was excited because of the way they were, the way they talk about things and obviously the recruits they're bringing in. I was excited to see where things could go. I was bummed the old staff was leaving - because those were the guys that recruited us - but I was so excited because it seemed like these guys had this thing going in the right direction. I know all of us want a bowl game. Especially last year, when they came in I was like, 'we're going to do it, we're going to be good and not miss a beat.' We ended up taking a step back, but I think we can put the right foot forward this year and get going in the right direction. If Jacoby [Brissett] plays the way we all hope we can, maybe we can go get an ACC [championship]. That's what I've been wanting to do since I got here. That's one of the reasons I committed to State - right when I saw this place, the fans and the type of players we were getting, I was like this place is primed for winning big - not just winning bowl games, but winning big games. This coaching staff definitely seems like it has it going in the right direction. I'm excited to see where we can go, hopefully we can end our senior season on a good note and become proud alumni after that.
WB: Scott said it pretty well right there. I was definitely sad to see the old staff go because we got to know them for two years, they recruited us, they invested in us and they believed in us, but that's how the business works. We had to embrace the situation and get to learn our new coaches quickly. We developed relationships with them, but there was nothing about the new staff that first turned us off. I was like, 'man, these guys are great, they're going to bring energy to this program. They're upbeat, excited, just what we're looking for and the vision our athletic director wanted.' We've been on the train since then and enjoyed every minute of it.
NS: What I always thought about it was - if I was a new coach coming in and I looked at the statistics, I'd say, 'I can't trust this kicker.' That's what I always thought - he can't trust me, so I really wanted to make sure I worked hard for the new coaching staff so that they could trust me going out on the field. Sophomore season helped me wake up and realize, 'this is college, this isn't high school anymore; you need to start really working every day hard, doing everything you can do.'
What has been the best memory at NC State so far for each of you?
ST: Florida State - sophomore year, that extra point.
WB: That was a good one.
NS: The FSU extra point, the Maryland field goal and the Richmond field goal.
ST: Really any of those game-winning situations when it came down to us. For me, especially after the Florida State game, I felt like I was living a dream. I was pinching myself because I couldn't believe we did that. I was so excited looking forward to the rest of the season and thinking about what we could have done. It obviously didn't turn out the way we wanted it, but that game will forever live on as one of the best games and moments of my life.
WB: The thing I'll never forget is Scott's over-the-shoulder catch against Virginia, showing us that long snappers are athletes.
ST: Freshman year, it was when we were playing at Virginia, we were at the 40-yard line I think. It was a pooch punt and Wil punted it, I caught it over the shoulder on like the 3-yard line. It was almost like he passed it to me. Two plays later, Amerson had a pick-six and I think we won 28-14. That was definitely a good memory.
WB: I think Florida State was definitely the best game we've ever played in, but another highlight was Florida State last year where Scott got concussed on a pretty big hit on the sidelines. I remember at halftime, he swore, 'I'm fine man, put me in the game. Put me in the game,' and this guy can't even see straight. He's swearing he's fine and it just showed me his competitive nature and how much he'll push his body to the limits. He doesn't care, he just loves the game and he wants to play.
ST: I didn't play [the second half], I was saying some pretty crazy things I guess before we went in for halftime. I came to when it was 28-0, and I guess before that I told [one of the assistant coaches] that I had to get back in the game because my sister was at the game...I don't even have a sister. I guess I was pretty messed up if I said that. Then I said some other things; Smoke, the equipment guy, always jokes with me. Apparently when I was walking off the sideline, he asked, 'are you alright, Scott?' I turned around and said, 'I'm not Scott, I'm Batman.' If I said both of those things, I don't know if I should be playing anymore [laughs].
WB: I think Smoke's messing with you a little bit.
ST: Yeah, I think Smoke's messing with me, but it has become a running joke between us now.
What are your goals for this upcoming season?
NS: Lou Groza [for himself], Ray Guy [for Baumann] and the Scotty Thompson Award [for Thompson].
WB: Playboy All-America [for Thompson].
ST: Other than individual awards, just definitely getting to a bowl game for the team and our senior season. Making sure we end on a high note and doing our jobs. We want to go through the season without anyone ever having to hear my name and only hearing these two's names in a positive way. That's the only thing I'm worried about this season - just going through another season unnoticed.
NS: Just want to go through, do our job and do it great, and win another bowl game. Those are the best experiences, honestly; those bowl games.
WB: As a team, we definitely want to go to a bowl game this year. There's a bad taste from last year, we didn't get to go to one and we don't want that to happen again.
NS: Honestly, all we have to do is beat UNC and I'm fine.
ST: That, too. Honestly, it's the last game of the year and if we don't beat those guys, I don't what I'll do. I will cry like a little girl and then I will also not be held responsible for my actions after that game [laughs].
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