Special specialist

Whether he's bottle flipping in videos or proposing marriage on the field, Drue Chrisman is no run-of-the-mill punter

Bill Rabinowitz
[Joshua A. Bickel/Dispatch]

Drue Chrisman understands the rationale for being the subject of this cover story on an Ohio State off week.

After all, this Saturday will be pretty similar to the previous six in terms of the Buckeyes punter’s workload.

Chrisman is averaging 46.8 yards per kick. That’s on pace to tie for third in OSU history and is the best since Tom Tupa's 47.0 in 1987. Thanks to his foot and the work of the coverage unit, Ohio State ranks ninth nationally with a 43.0-yard net punting average.

But as proficient as Chrisman has been, he’s not listed in the official NCAA statistics. Ohio State’s offense is so proficient that Chrisman doesn’t have enough punts to qualify. In six games, the junior has only 17 punts.

So, what’s it like to be the least-busy starter on the team?

“Yeah, that's kind of summed up the season so far for me,” Chrisman said with a smile before last week’s game against Michigan State.

Not that he’s complaining. Chrisman knows that seldom needing to punt is a good thing for a football team. At least he’s getting plenty of work as the holder for placekicker Blake Haubeil on extra points.

“That's just the nature of the position,” Chrisman said. “If you’ve got a really good team and you score a lot, you might not be used as much. Hopefully, we never do stall out. But with these bigger games we get into, especially down the road when the weather gets a little worse, that's kind of when you’ll start to see me appear a little more.”

'Wear him out'

Travis Chrisman would laugh at the idea of his son being idle. He had a succinct description of Drue as a boy.

“Hyper … active,” Travis said, stretching it into two words.

Most parents would have tried medicating Drue, he said, but the Chrismans didn’t want to do that. So they tried to manage his boundless energy.

“My job was to run him,” Travis said. “I had to wear him out. When he was little, he was climbing the walls. I would literally leave to go to work in the morning and tell my wife, ‘See ya, wouldn’t want to be ya.' It was crazy.”

Travis owns Party at Trav’s, a well-known fireworks store in Lawrenceburg, Indiana. Drue’s mom, Sheila, is a fitness instructor and former bodybuilder.

Drue is the second-youngest of six kids and the only boy. School came easily to him — he has a 3.4 grade-point average at Ohio State as a consumer sciences and family services major — as did sports.

Travis remembers taking him to a football competition as a young boy. Using a high school football, Drue kicked the ball 20 yards farther than any other kid and threw it 10 yards farther, Travis said.

“Who’s coming in second?” Travis said the guy running the drill asked the other boys.

Coached by Travis, Drue excelled at several sports, but he was a big fish in a small pond in Lawrenceburg. When he reached high school, the family decided to enroll him at Cincinnati LaSalle, which is 25 minutes away and competes in the rugged Greater Catholic League.

Chrisman played quarterback and defense as well as punter, but a hyperextended elbow requiring Tommy John ligament-transplant surgery ended his quarterback days. Chrisman studied punting through YouTube videos before working with kicking coach Dick Seitz and developing into one of the country’s top prospects.

He picked Ohio State in part because the Buckeyes let him redshirt his freshman year so that he’d be on campus five years and be able to pursue a master’s degree in his final year.

Uplifting spirit

Chrisman believes that redshirting for the 2016 season was invaluable. He was able to acclimate to college life and learn behind punter Cameron Johnston. Those were big shoes to fill, but he has done it. Chrisman has been a semifinalist the last two seasons for the Ray Guy Award, which goes to the nation's top punter.

He has brought expertise and spirit to the specialists unit, Haubeil said.

Haubeil said he admires how locked in Chrisman is to his daily routine, which he believes is the key to his consistency.

“He is someone I definitely can look up to, and I suggest young guys on the team look up to,” Haubeil said. “He's such a good guy to be around. He makes me better each and every day.

“He’s just always got a smile on his face and has such a positive outlook on life.”

Specialists are usually stereotyped as quirky, and Chrisman proudly cops to that. He might be more famous for his bottle flipping than his punting. Videos of his remarkable ability to get bottles to land right-side up have gone viral on social media.

This spring, he proposed to his girlfriend, Avery Eliason, during Ohio State’s spring game. She and Chrisman had been dating for almost a year and their families have been close since they were little. Her family even persuaded his to convert to their Mormonism, though the Chrisman parents are no longer active members.

But Eliason was stunned during the spring game when she was invited onto the field and Chrisman, pretending to hold for a kick, instead popped the question. Chrisman’s teammates mobbed them when she accepted.

“Just to be surrounded by so much love and the energy that was in the stadium before, during and after the proposal was just magical,” Eliason said. “Being able to feel the support of everyone around me and obviously the love and commitment of Drue towards me, it made me feel really special.”

She, as does Travis Chrisman, describes Drue as a goofball. Eliason said that he delights in voice impersonations, especially of horror-movie characters. She said that his one of the clown Pennywise from the movie “It” is dead-on.

“It’s like the creepiest thing ever,” she said.

But Chrisman knows when to be silly and when to be serious.

“He’s really developed into a professional, well-spoken, intelligent, charismatic young man,” his father said. “He’s a spectacular kid. It’s been a pleasure to watch him grow up. His mom and I are extremely proud to be his parents.”

Travis Chrisman said he believes that real life for an athlete doesn’t begin until sports end, whether that’s in high school or in the pros.

“Hopefully, he can delay that as long as possible,” he said. “We’ll see who he is when he’s 40, but he’s got a really good start, that’s for sure.”