When the University of Cincinnati kicks off the football campaign Sept. 4 against Ohio State, the punter for the Bearcats will probably be a former Payson Police Department volunteer.
Brian Steel, 20, accepted a three-year full-ride scholarship offer from Cincinnati early this week.
Steel inked the scholarship after spending last weekend on the campus of Cincinnati with his father, Payson Police property officer and equipment manager, Robert Steel.
Brian Steel also had been recruited by several other universities including Missouri, Northern Arizona University, UCLA and Oregon.
Although Steel's punting services are now in demand, the road to major college football was a twisting, turning avenue for him.
Raised in Page where his father was a police officer, Steel moved to Elmira, N.Y. to live with his mother after his parents divorced.
At Southside High School in Elmira, he was a standout football player on both sides of the ball, playing tight end and middle linebacker.
As good as he was, he seldom punted for his high school team.
After graduation, he moved to Payson to be with his father. His ambition was to walk on at Northern Arizona University where he would try out as a wide receiver.
While attending Gila Community College in Payson, Steel took up punting and spent his spare time serving as a police volunteer.
It wasn't an unusual sight to see him -- armed with a duffel bag full of footballs -- booming 50 to 60 yard spiraling punts while practicing at the field at Rumsey Park.
Working part time at Chaparral Pines, Steel met resident golf pro Shawn McCarthy. It wasn't long before the subject of football came up and Steel learned McCarthy had kicked professionally for the New England Patriots.
Knowing Steel's intense interest in kicking, McCarthy offered to tutor him in the finer points of punting.
"He had a strong leg, he just needed to fine-tune some things," McCarthy said. "The thing about Brian is that he wanted to get better and was willing to work at it."
McCarthy is predicting that if Steel continues to progress and improve his skills, he has the opportunity to someday play on Sundays.
"He has the right mind set and the demeanor to be a good one," he said.
Move to Scottsdale
Unable to pick up the school credits he wanted in Payson, Steel transferred to Scottsdale Community College where his brother was a student.
Steel didn't try out for the football team but during last spring's practice he was on a school field punting when a Scottsdale assistant coach saw him.
"He asked me if I was eligible and if I wanted to punt for the team," Steel said.
Scottsdale already had an excellent punting and kickoff specialist, John Goss, who later signed with Michigan State.
Goss, however, was frequently injured which gave Steel the opportunity to punt in seven of Scottsdale's 10 games.
Steel is not sure of his exact average but estimates it was about 45-yards-per-punt and the hang time was about five seconds.
At the conclusion of the season, he enrolled in a Ray Guy kicking clinic at Arizona State University to further enhance his kicking skills.
His performance at Scottsdale and at the camp earned him a spot in the Arizona Combine tryouts last spring at Scottsdale. In the tryouts May 1, junior college players had the opportunity to showcase their skills in front of university scouts. At the conclusion of the combine, Steel was named one of the top-four freshman participants.
According to the Arizona website, jcfootball.com, "Steel is powerful and his booming, spiraling kicks garnered more than a few looks." It predicts Steel will challenge for All-American honors in 2004 and "is a guy you'll probably see on TV in 2005."
Also at the combine, the 6-foot-1 inch, 225-pound freshman showed off his strength by bench pressing 225 pounds 15 times.
His performance caught the attention of several university coaches including Cincinnati's recruiting coordinator, Mark Staten.
Only days before taking the recruiting trip to Cincinnati, Steel was wavering about whether to accept the offer, remain at Scottsdale or select another school.
"I really don't know what I'm going to do," he said at the time.
The trip to the Bearcat campus, however, convinced him that Cincinnati was where he wanted to attend school and play football.
"He knows it's a place he can mature, get an education and play right away," his father said. "We were impressed with the academics and the family-oriented atmosphere of the school."
An honor student, Steel will major in criminal justice with an eye on someday becoming a third-generation law enforcement officer.
But before he settles on a career as a police officer, he would like to give professional football a try.
"Since I started punting, I've thought about it," he said. "If I do well at Cincinnati, maybe I can make it in the pros."