TEMPE, Ariz. -- “Not very often do kids have dreams come true like this.”
For Matt Haack, Arizona has served as the bookends for his young life. Born in the Grand Canyon State, he moved with his family to Iowa shortly thereafter. It was there in Iowa where he grew to became a standout prep star at Dowling Catholic High School in West Des Moines.
But for Haack (pronounced “hawk”), his native state and its marquee university were never far from his mind. Even as a child, attending Arizona State was one of his goals.
“It’s always been a dream school of mine,” said Haack. “When I was in middle school, I played on a travel baseball team called the Sun Devils, and we were all gunning to get here. I have family down here too, so I knew that was always an option.”
That possibility began to garner momentum later in his prep career thanks to an idea from his coach.
With a 6-foot-1, 185-pound frame to complement 4.6, 40-yard dash speed, Haack first rose to prominence as a big play wide receiver. His skills allowed him to become one of the most dangerous downfield threats in the state, but while his hands put points on the scoreboard, it was his left foot that put him on scouting rankings.
“My freshman year, I was a running back, but then my coach moved me to wide receiver because he thought it would be better for my future and for the team,” Haack said. “My junior year, my high school did the rugby-style roll punt. My coach wanted me to do that, so I could take off and run whenever I wanted. It was kind of a read thing. Ever since then, I just picked up punting. I came to camps because I wanted to learn regular punting and diversify my game.”
It was at one of those kicking camps, one held in Arizona last summer, that Haack met ASU special teams coach Joe Lorig.
“I came to a special teams camp here, and I punted in front of Coach Lorig,” said Haack. “That day, I kicked some balls and then took a tour. We then kept in touch, and a few days later, they offered me.”
When the offer from ASU officially came in, it took a while to sink in.
“I was speechless. My dad and I were on a plane going to another football camp, and then it hit me,” said Haack. “I was just ecstatic. I didn’t know what to say. I didn’t know what to do.”
By the time National Signing Day rolled around, Haack had risen to be rated as a three-star prospect
and the nation’s No. 6 punter, according to scouting service Scout.com. Iowa State also made Haack an offer, but ultimately, he held to the commitment to ASU he made last summer, and faxed in his Letter of Intent in February.
Haack’s signing breaks a 12-year drought for ASU, as he becomes the first Iowa prep player to sign with the Sun Devils since 2001. While the Sun Devils have not been major players in the Midwest recruiting region in recent years, Haack does believe that the tide is slowly turning.
“They’re (ASU) not talked about a whole lot,” said Haack. “Everyone knows the Pac-12 now with USC and Oregon. I think Arizona State is on the rise. I think it is becoming bigger there.”
Haack is expected to take over for the departed Josh Hubner, who last year set several school punting records en route to being named a Ray Guy Award semi-finalist. The two have spoken a few times during Haack’s recruitment, and the heir apparent understands the big shoes he now has to fill.
“On my visits during the summer and last fall, I talked to him,” Haack said. “He was a great player here. I know all the expectations and how great he was.”
During the Signing Day press conference, ASU head coach Todd Graham spoke very highly of Haack's ability and potential.
"We had to sign a punter and we were able to sign, I think, one of the best that I've seen in a long time,” said Graham. “This guy will not only punt, he can play wide receiver for us. Great athlete, he is a rugby style punter. He can punt the ball in all directions."
Beyond the praise of his skills, it was Graham’s personality and genuine demeanor that immediately became apparent to Haack and helped secure his commitment.
“The first time I talked to him was on the phone. Very energetic. I loved it,” said Haack. “That’s what you want in a coach. Very enthusiastic. He’s one with the team, and he wants what’s best for everyone. I was really impressed with him.”
But it was his relationship with Lorig, Haack's future position coach, that truly sealed the deal. In a rather short time, their bond continues to blossom.
“It’s going well. We talked on the phone quite a bit back when I was in Iowa,” said Haack. “That’s why I wanted to come here. I kept wanting to talk to him and come here more and more.”
Haack’s rugby style translates well to situational punting, but he realizes that a more traditional approach will be essential to success in the Pac-12. His hard work in that area has reached a point where he now feels he can do both with equal proficiency.
“Ever since I got the offer, I’ve been working on the regular punt as much as I could,” Haack said. “I knew here, I wouldn’t do rugby as much or at all. I could probably do both equally right now. I think in the long run, I’ll be able to do traditional better.”
While Haack’s leg strength is still developing into the type of cannon that Hubner featured, he feels that he can still blast balls deep should the situation call for it.
“I could average about 40 right now, but my longest ever was 80…but I had the wind behind me," Haack admits. "The longest I had in a high school game was 65.”
With his demonstrated athleticism and playmaking skills, Haack said that he coaching staff have been discussing fake punt scenarios with him. They also have broached the topic of Haack seeing time at wide receiver, one of the few uncertain position groups on this Sun Devil roster. Should it come to fruition, it is an opportunity that Haack would embrace.
“There’s not been a whole lot of time talk,” Haack said of getting reps at receiver. “As long as I can master the offense along with the other guys, so that we’re all up to speed and all on the same page, I think anyone’s got a shot. The guys here now are here for that. They’ve been here for a while. They know what they are doing. They are veterans. We look up to them and hopefully, I can one day play.”
While it could be hard for some players to transition from hauling in footballs to kicking them away, Haack has grown to love his newer position.
“At first, I was a wide receiver and always wanted the ball in my hands, but ever since I have been punting, I don’t know that I could pick a favorite. I like both of them.”
Despite arriving in Tempe only recently, it hasn’t taken long for Haack to begin his immersion into the new culture of Sun Devil football, or as it’s become know on Twitter, #Graham360
. Already, “they” has become “we”.
“All these guys are great leaders,” said Haack. “We all have to have great character. We’re honest. We’re trustworthy. We’re hard working. We’re going to come to work every day and grind. It’s teamwork.”
Haack, who will wear No. 26 for ASU, knows that the punting job is his to lose. However, he is taking nothing for granted, opting to instead to become a solid contributor to a contender.
“Hopefully, I can get out there and make an impact and contribute to our team as we work towards a Rose Bowl and national championship.
“We have a great team coming in this year, and I’m just looking to make an impact.”