In June of 2012, Jamie Kohl – one of the most widely-respected special teams gurus in football – began his annual summer blitz, hosting kicking and punting showcase camps for high schoolers on college campuses across the country. He made an early stop at his alma mater, Iowa State, and had a few players from the area he knew show up.
When punting drills started, someone he didn't know blew them all away. He blasted punts 20 yards farther than anyone. The ball exploded off his foot.
Kohl looked at the roster of players in attendance and asked:
Who's this Matt Haack guy?
"How come I don't know who you are?" Kohl asked Haack. "Are you a punter?"
"Honestly, no," Haack replied. "I play receiver for my team."
Haack, back then, was a star wide receiver for Dowling Catholic High School in West Des Moines. He was electric, hitting double moves on overmatched cornerbacks and speeding past any defender who tried to chase him down.
And because Haack was the best athlete on the team, his coaches put him at punter. They'd roll him out, rugby style, with an ever-present threat of their athletic star running on a fake. If he punted, most of the time it was a low line drive with the directive: Just get the ball down the field however he could.
Haack hoped to earn a scholarship somewhere or walk on at Iowa – his whole family are Hawkeyes – as a wide receiver. He mostly signed up for Kohl's camp to hone the basic fundamentals of traditional drop-back, directional punting in case his high school team needed him to do it more. The other camps he planned to attend that summer – between his junior and senior year, when most scholarship offers go out – were for wide receivers.
But as the day-long camp at Iowa State went on, Kohl realized this unknown kid from West Des Moines had a chance to earn a Division I scholarship as a punter.
"I don't know how good a wide receiver he is," Kohl told Haack's high school coach, "but he can be a D-I punter – if not more."
One issue: Iowa State didn't need a punter – they already had an underclassman punter on scholarship.
Kohl knew Arizona State, though, was looking for a punter, and he was hosting his next camp there. He wanted to get Haack in front of Arizona State's special teams coach, Joe Lorig.
But first, he had to get the Haack family – whom he only met a few hours ago – to trust him.
"We didn't know who he was," Haack said. "We didn't know what Kohl’s Kicking was, we didn't know any of that stuff."
Kohl flew from Iowa to Arizona the night after his camp in Ames, and his flight didn't land until the wee hours of the morning. Still, he knew he didn't have much time – so he called Haack's parents in the middle of the night.
"Look, you don't know who I am," Kohl said. "And I apologize for calling you this late. But this is really urgent. And I'm just asking you to trust me."
Kohl's pitch: I want you to drop everything and meet me at Arizona State. From there, we'll go across the country, hitting my showcase camps from Stanford to Notre Dame to Miami. At some point, if you trust me, your son is talented enough that he will be offered a Division I scholarship.
As a punter.
"He was on the phone with my parents that night until two or three in the morning," Haack said. "I woke up the next day and my parents were like, we're going on a trip to all these camps with Jamie Kohl."
This was a significant financial and time commitment for the Haack family. But they bought into Kohl's vision – and Kohl's vision was only strengthened by how all-in Haack and his family were.
Haack impressed during Kohl's camp at Arizona State. And during his cross-country tour, he got the call from Tempe: Hey, we'd like to offer you a scholarship.
Kohl was right. This kid with incredible leg talent but only basic fundamentals would be a Division I punter.
The story doesn't end there, though. Haack got to Arizona State and worked tirelessly on his craft (one advantage of ASU: He could punt year-round).
"When I got to ASU, I had to learn how to punt for real," Haack said.
And it's one thing to earn a Division I, Power-Five scholarship. It's another to turn that opportunity into a pro career. Haack went from averaging 38 yards per punt as a freshman to 44.4 (sixth-best in the nation) as a senior. And with pro scouts already on campus to watch Sun Devils kicker Zane Gonzalez – who wound up a 2017 seventh-round draft pick – Haack landed on the radar of a number of teams around the NFL during his senior season.
Haack starred at a camp hosted by Kohl for special teamers who weren't invited to the NFL Combine, then blasted punts during an impressive Pro Day at Arizona State.
"Conversations with my agent went from, let's get into a minicamp," Haack said, "to you got a chance at a job here."
Six years later, Haack is still in the NFL and still making good on Kohl's vision a decade earlier. He's had a career high 40.6 percent of his punts downed inside the 20-yard line in 2022 and blasted a career-long 70-yard punt after joining the Colts in August following a season-ending injury to Rigoberto Sanchez in training camp.
It's been quite a journey for a guy who viewed himself as a wide receiver before one day in June changed the course of his life.
"If it wasn't for that week," Haack said, "I probably wouldn't be here."
Kohl has coached a number punters who've made the NFL – Logan Cooke (Jaguars), AJ Cole (Raiders), JK Scott (Chargers), Corliss Waitman (Broncos), among others. But he'll always fondly reflect on Haack's story not just because it was successful, but because of who the story benefitted.
"He's just a really good person, and that story to me is one of the more gratifying ones because I didn't know him, he didn't know me and at the end of the day, it was a magical week in his life where he went form just a kid from Iowa who was probably going to be a walk-on type receiver or small school scholarship guy to a Pac-12 punter that ended up having an NFL career," Kohl said. "And he's worked at it. It's not like he just lucked into these opportunities. He worked at it and took full advantage of it."