Devin Hester: New NCAA kickoff rule is bad for the game

The Hurricanes hope their 2014 game against Louisville is more like 2004 (here, Devin Hester returns a punt for a touchdown and a fourth-quarter lead) than last season's disappointing bowl-game blowout. (Allen Eyestone/The Palm Beach Post)
Devin Hester (right) is widely considered the best returner in football history. (Allen Eyestone/The Palm Beach Post)

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Devin Hester made a living returning punts and kicks. He is widely considered the best the sport has ever seen.

Perhaps not surprisingly, he’s not a fan of a new NCAA rule, approved last month, that allows players to call for a fair catch on a kickoff and have it result in a touchback.

“They’re trying to take the return game out,” he told The Post Thursday, before he was inducted to the University of Miami Sports Hall of Fame. “Even as a fan, before I got known as a specialist at it, that was one of the most exciting plays in the game. It’s like saying, ‘On offense, you can’t throw deep balls.'”

Partly because of the 295 kickoffs he returned in his 11 years in the NFL, Hester, who retired last year, could make the Pro Football Hall of Fame when he is eligible in 2022. For him, the issue is personal.

“It’s a position someone can be good at,” he said. “You’re limiting their ability to make a living.”

The NFL has not changed its kickoff rules. But Hester, 35, feels the NCAA is making a mistake. Part of his reasoning comes from personal experience.

“I remember a lot of hits on offense, and a lot of hits going up to make a tackle where I was like, ‘Yeah, that hurt,'” he said. “I can’t name one time where I got hit real hard on punt return or kickoff return where I remember it, like, ‘Wow, that was a hard one.’ But I remember a lot of hard ones on offense and defense.”

Miami coach Mark Richt, asked about the rule Thursday, seems more amenable, partly because one of his brightest young talents, sophomore cornerback Malek Young, suffered a career-ending neck injury while blocking on a kickoff return in a game last Dec. 30.

“I think if people fair-catch inside the 25, it’ll probably cut down on those high-speed collisions,” he said. “It’s going to be interesting to see what people do. By the grace of God, Malik is going to be fine.”


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