INDIANAPOLIS —Rigoberto Sanchez was a caught a little off guard on Monday, when he learned he had won the Indianapolis Colts' punter job.
With one preseason game remaining — on Thursday against the Cincinnati Bengals — Sanchez figured the team would take just a little bit more time to evaluate his competition with veteran Jeff Locke before moving forward with its decision for the regular season, which begins Sept. 10 against the Los Angeles Rams.
But, as head coach Chuck Pagano explained, the team had seen everything it needed to see through an entire offseason, training camp and three preseason games worth of work to go ahead and release Locke on Monday and officially give Sanchez the team's stamp of approval.
"I just kind of came out with a mentality of just going out in practice and trying to execute my job," Sanchez said. "But it was kind of surprising, yeah."
The Colts signed Locke, a veteran lefty kicker, at the start of the free agency signing period in March after he spent the past four years as the Minnesota Vikings' punter. At the time, Locke was the presumed replacement for All-Pro Colts punter Pat McAfee, who decided to retire after the 2016 season, his eighth in Indianapolis, to pursue a career with the entertainment website Barstool Sports.
But with a focus on competition at every spot, Colts general manager Chris Ballard and his staff on May 4 decided to sign Sanchez, who went undrafted this year out of Hawaii, where he served as the team's punter, kicker and kickoff specialist in 26 total games over two seasons.
With the Warriors, Sanchez set the school's all-time record with a 44.8 career punting average, compiling 144 punts in all for 6,457 yards, with 49 punts inside the 20-yard line and 45 punts of 50-plus yards.
Sanchez and Locke had split punting and kickoff duties for the Colts through their first three preseason games; Sanchez had punted 10 total times for 472 yards (for a 47.2 average) with a 41.3 net average and three kicks inside the 20-yard line, while Locke had 11 punts for 478 yards (43.5 average) with a 44-yard net average and also had three punts downed inside the 20.
But the game numbers aren't everything, and Pagano said Monday the team went with Sanchez because "he can do everything."
"He can do it every day," Pagano said. "He's young, he's got a live leg and can place the ball anywhere."
According to Pagano, one play in particular on Saturday showed him everything he needed to know about Sanchez's punting ability and special teams prowess.
Up four points, 19-15, with 44 seconds left, the Colts faced a 4th and 1 from their own 34-yard line. Instead of risking it and going for the game-clinching first down, Pagano decided to punt the ball and take his chances with the Pittsburgh offense one final time.
Sanchez didn't only boom that punt 51 yards, but he sent it out of bounds at the Pittsburgh 15-yard line, giving the Steelers no chance at all to improve their field position with a potential return.
"It was a 50-yard kick about a yard out of bounds. It doesn't get any better than that," Pagano said. "We've made that mistake before and cost us dearly."
Sanchez will also serve as the Colts' kickoff specialist and field goal holder, and will be Adam Vinatieri's emergency backup kicking field goals. Sanchez converted 21-of-24 (87.5 percent) field goal attempts with a long of 55 yards in his two seasons at Hawaii, including a perfect 13-for-13 field goal mark his final year.
"I'm really happy and thankful for the opportunity," Sanchez said. "Just coming in and being an undrafted free agent, I've just got to come in here and just keep doing it, and keep working at it."