Fireworks, Texans Cheerleaders, Military Flyovers,
"Hillcrest Ford Heroes", Tailgate Fun and Football
Bearkat Family Weekend Saturday Sept. 25

When punter Matt Foster stepped onto the football field before 42,521 fans in Sam Houston's season opener at Baylor Saturday, the transfer from Purdue wasn't just making his debut as a Bearkat.

The kicker from Melbourne, Australia, was playing in his first American football game ever.

"It was crazy," Foster said of his first play before the fifth largest crowd ever to witness a Sam Houston football game. "I was nervous, yes. I didn't want to make a mistake before so many people. But when it came time for my first punt, I tried to block everything out and get in the zone. It worked out."

Foster boomed his first punt 43 yards. Later in the game, he blasted a 49-yarder. For the contest, he averaged 39.2 yards on eight punts. The performance was a bright spot in the season opener for the Bearkats.

With all the new faces in camp during preseason practice, Foster certainly stood out. A lanky 6-6, 185-pound athlete, he is the oldest player and one of the tallest on the squad. And then, with most of the Bearkats from Texas, there's the accent.

Practice ends for the day at the Bearkat football summer camp and the team rewards itself with pizza. 

The new punter asks head coach Willie Fritz, "What type of flavors do you have?"

Fritz pauses in a moment of confusion and asks the player to repeat himself. "What type of flavors do you have," he says again. Fritz was looking for the word toppings, as Americans call it. At that moment, he realizes how different this new addition to his team is from the others.

It's been a long journey from Australia. Foster joined the Bearkats this season after spending last year as a walk-on for Purdue University. But when the Boilermakers didn't offer Foster a scholarship for the 2010 season, he decided to explore his options elsewhere. Foster sent out a mass email to different colleges regarding his situation.

When Fritz received the message, he was inquisitive about a Big 10 prospect possibly coming his way. Fritz already had an established working rapport with Purdue defensive coordinator Donn Landholm, dating back to the days at Blinn College, where together they won back-to-back national titles in 1995 and 1996. Landholm recommended the quick-kicking Foster for the open punting competition at Sam Houston.

"I called (Landholm) when I got the email and asked 'what can you tell me about this kid?'" Fritz said. "He said if things would have fallen right, he would be our punter right now."

Landholm went further to say that he believed Foster had a legitimate chance to punt in the Big 10, that's unless Fritz made the move to take him. By July, Foster had moved to Huntsville for summer camp.

"It's very professional," Foster said about nature of the team.  "The team is great. Everyone gets along with everyone. It's good to be around all the players on and off the field. In regards to football, practice is really professional and we're getting a lot better."

At age 24, Foster is the oldest player on the team. Yet, he is the least experienced in terms of on the field play. Foster grew up playing Australian football, where kicking is the ideal strategy for the game.

Unlike the typical pass here in the states, players punt to advance the ball downfield. After noticing the few Australians who had played in the NFL, Foster felt as if he could kick fast enough to translate his game and compete at the highest level. He began to practice with an NFL ball and sent out tapes to colleges.

However, practicing with a professional ball is nothing like playing an actual football game, not even at the NCAA Division I level.  The matchup against Baylor will be the first time Foster, who Fritz says has earned the starting punter position, ever plays in an actual football game.

"Punters, kickers and snappers have to be creatures of habit," Fritz said. "You have to do the same thing day after day."

As expected, Foster still needs to work on his consistency. According to coaches, some days he kicks like an NFL punter and other days he punts like he's in high school. But with the need of repetition that Fritz talked about, Foster's development is only a matter of time.

"We're getting him lined out and I think he's got an opportunity to be a great punter if he becomes more consistent," said Fritz. "He's never played in a football game before this year. At Purdue was the first time he ever put a helmet on, a year ago. At least we didn't have that to deal with. But he's won the job and he's our punter right now. I think he has a chance to be an excellent one."

Sam Houston State fans will have their first opportunity to see Foster in action when the Bearkats play host to Gardner-Webb on Saturday September 25. The 6 p.m. contest is the highlight of Family Weekend at Sam Houston. The event will feature a guest appearance by the Houston Texans Cheerleaders, a postgame fireworks display, one of the largest tailgate parties ever planned at SHSU and a halftime presentation saluting "Hillcrest Heroes" (members of the police and fire department EMS workers).

Sam Houston students are admitted free to Bearkat home football games on presentation of their BearkatOne cards. Tickets for individual home games, priced at $25 for chairback reserved, $20 for bleacher reserved and $15 for general admission, are onsale online now at www.gobearkats.com/tickets or at the SHSU Athletic Ticket Office.

The ticket office is located in the Ron Mafrige Field House at Bowers Stadium. Ticket office hours are 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday. The ticket office telephone number is 936 294-1729.